Turkish fighter jets enter the Syrian war
ISIS does not recognize international law and does not have any limits
Details about Turkey’s recent deal with Washington to provide air support for Syrian rebels are scant and characterized by the term “in principle.” However, it is an interesting development and a first in the Syrian conflict. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier this week that Washington and Ankara have agreed “in principle” to give air support to some forces from Syria’s mainstream opposition.
Cavusoglu has not yet provided enough clarification about the agreement. However, it seems that Ankara has assumed the responsibility of supporting Syrian opposition forces that were trained on its territory. It seems these forces will be sent across the border to liberate areas seized by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and the Turkish air force will provide cover for them and perhaps aid them in fighting.
ISIS does not recognize international law and does not have any limits, so it may cross into Turkey in the future and threaten its securityAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Some may think the target is not the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or the areas it controls. This is true so far, so many will be disappointed. However, if we put this new development within the framework of the current Syrian reality, we would realize it is important for the opposition.
Without this move, evil parties such as ISIS and Hezbollah will destroy the Syrian opposition. There are three main parties fighting in Syria now: the regime, the opposition and terrorist groups. Any party that emerges victorious over the other two will dominate.
Why does Turkey, with Western support, want to target ISIS and not the Syrian regime? Because ISIS is the strongest party and the fastest expanding, controlling Syria’s largest areas. What is more dangerous is that ISIS does not recognize international law and does not have any limits, so it may cross into Turkey in the future and threaten its security.
ISIS is certainly the party that everyone - the Assad regime, the opposition, the Turks, the Arabs and the Westerners - agree to fight, while disagreeing about almost everything else.
There is a Syrian opposition army of almost 15,000 members in Turkey, and it has been recently trained. We do not know how efficient it is at fighting, and how it will confront the world’s most dangerous fighters, who have proved that they are the most capable of winning due to their extremist ideology of fighting for the sake of death.
Turkey’s readiness to provide Syrian rebels with military and air support inside Syrian airspace involves two important developments. The first is that the Syrian opposition may be finally capable of establishing zones that it controls and manages, and which are protected by Turkey.
The second is that Assad’s air force will for the first time be prohibited from shelling these liberated areas, which it has repeatedly targeted with barrel bombs. This comes amid reports a few days ago of the regime’s air force shelling ISIS posts in Palmyra in cooperation with the Americans, perhaps entailing intelligence cooperation.
It is a strange scenario in which enemies are engaged in a battle against one mutual rival. However, this may pave the way for either of two developments: a political plan, most probably integrating the moderate opposition into the Syrian regime but without Assad; or dividing the country. These two options depend on the result of the war on ISIS, which will not be easy to defeat.
Proof of that is the failure of the Syrian and Iraqi regimes to defeat it during two bloody years. These two options also depend on the scale of Turkish intervention, whose aims and significance have been expanded, and which will be decisive at a later time.
Turkey’s foreign minister has complained that there is no point for Syrian rebels leading the fight in Syria without air support, otherwise they would face Assad’s barrel bombs and ISIS forces. This is true, as ISIS and the Syrian regime have for two years agreed on targeting the Free Syrian Army and other moderate powers.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 27, 2015.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former 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.