The Syrian regime has returned to using car bombs against its rivals. It even dared to use this method along its borders with Turkey as a new message that it feels confident and that it will not hesitate to even threaten its northern huge neighbor. This is the feeling of those confident that Ankara will not engage in a war with the Syrian regime after it committed to the policy of caution for more than a year and a half. The explosion at Bab al-Hawa few days ago targeted Syrian opposition figures and killed at least 14 people including Turks. It was orchestrated by the Assad regime which its information minister dared threaten Turkey two days before the explosion!
The paradox here is that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the first to condemn the brutality of the Assad regime at the beginning of the revolution around two years ago before rebels turned to arms. The Turkish leader was viewed like a hero by many Syrians and Arabs because he stood against Assad’s violence. But after confrontations escalated and after the brutality of the regime escalated and the number of those killed by the regime, mostly civilians, became scary, Ankara’s voice decreased and was limited to verbal protests. After a year and a half, the regime of Bashar al-Assad dared defy its northern big neighbor several times either verbally or through murder, like it did few days ago.
Syria’s area is a little more than one fourth of the area of its huge Turkish neighbor. The Turks ruled Syria, their Arab gate, for centuries as a state of succession. But at the end of World War I, they withdrew after the establishment of the Turkish state. However, the fear of the Turkish neighbor remained dominant on the Syrian regimes that successively ruled Damascus. Hafez al-Assad was the last of the Syrian rulers terrified by the Turkish threats in the 90’s when he saw Turkish tanks at the Bab al-Hawa crossing border. He immediately ended the activity of the armed Kurdish-Turkish opposition and handed over its leader Abdullah Öcalan.
Another paradox is that the ice of this cold relation did not melt until the era of Bashar and Erdogan. The latter extended his hand and tried to assimilate the Arab neighbor with modern ideas and serious economic and political projects. The problem is that Bashar al-Assad reached a dead end with all the countries he jeopardized. Qatar, which was one of his allies, was the last of the countries he severed relations with. The Turkish prime minister as many remember attempted, out of loyalty, to extend a lifeline for Assad at the beginning of the revolution to help him out of the crisis. Assad, however, turned his back to the Turks. Although the Turkish neighbor was the one who repeatedly warned Assad against armed violence, it was the Turkish government which decided to retreat and preferred to remain neutral except for providing humanitarian aid for the refugees and overlooking some of the Syrian rebel’s activities especially after they seized two crossing borders and vast areas in northern Syria.
It is clear that at the beginning, Erdogan loyally attempted to help Syria and the regime avoid the tragedy we are witnessing today. But Assad is not a leader capable of making historic decisions. This is how the country descended into civil war. Assad intentionally deepened protests against him and turned them into a civil war. It is clear that Assad’s plan is based on his acknowledgment that he was defeated. It is also based on dragging Iran and the Iraqi regime behind him and on withdrawing to the coast and establishing his state there after sowing chaos and extremist jihadis behind him. He benefits from the Turkish fasting not to interfere in sowing problems for ten upcoming years, and he is inciting border, sectarian and nationalist problems in northern, eastern and western Syria. He wants to retreat toward the Mediterranean Sea to the regions of the Alawite – his sect which he took hostage and intentionally involved as a rival toward the Syrian people. For Turkey, he wants to transfer his problem to it making use of 50,000 armed Iranians, whom my source confirms are his guests present to fight in defense of his state along the coast!
This article first appeared in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 14, 2013.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.