Turkey and entering northern Syria

There has been talk of Turkey’s intent to enter northern Syria since the start of the revolution four years ago

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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There has been talk of Turkey’s intent to enter northern Syria since the start of the revolution four years ago. However, the hopes of Syrians who appealed to Turkey for help from the brutality of the Assad regime were dashed.

This time, statements on entering northing Syria are clear, as Turkey has said it will not allow a Kurdish corridor along its southern border. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said his country will not keep silent over demographic changes in Syria, and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey will protect its borders. These statements were made following a meeting of high-ranking civil and security officials to discuss developments in Syria.

If the Turks enter northern Syria, this will probably be supported by most Arab and some Muslim countries, and probably Washington

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Turkey now has two neighbors, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Syrian-Kurdish forces, which are expanding. Turkey’s entry into Syria seems to have become acceptable by various powers, including NATO, of which Turkey is a member. The Turks have incentives to invade, but have delayed for domestic and foreign reasons.

Syria has changed

Turkey has watched while Syria has changed demographically and geographically, and it is the biggest loser in what is happening in its southern neighbor. More Syrian refugees flee to Turkey, threatening its security, resources and demography.

Almost all Syrian opposition forces except for ISIS want Turkish intervention, as they view their northern neighbor as the only party capable of altering the balance of power in Syria in their favor. Now it seems that the United States does not mind a Turkish intervention against ISIS. The plan may develop into establishing a buffer zone in which refugees gather on the Syrian side of the border.

Parties that oppose Turkish intervention are the Syrian regime and its Iranian ally, although the latter has more than 30,000 fighters organized in extremist Shiite Lebanese, Iraqi, Iranian and Afghan militias. Iraq too is against Turkish intervention.

What is significant is that this time Iran has uncharacteristically and positively hinted via an official’s statement that Turkey has the right to enter Syria to prevent the establishment of a Kurdish corridor. The Iranians, like the Turks, fear that this corridor is a plan to establish an independent Kurdish state that threatens the unity of Iran, Turkey and Iraq.

Growing stronger

The Syrian Kurds have grown stronger and braver now that they control long parts of the border with Turkey, and particularly following their victory in the city of Tel Abyad, a victory that surprised the Turks.

Another aspect that poses a threat to Turkeyb is ISIS’s success in seizing the border town of Kobani. Many Western governments have warned their citizens against traveling to Turkey for fear of ISIS attacks. The warning was issued a day before ISIS attacked a Tunisian resort. Social networking websites are full of ISIS threats against the Turkish government and fierce criticism of Erdogan.

If the Turks enter northern Syria, this will probably be supported by most Arab and some Muslim countries, and probably Washington. The West does not have a better option than Turkey as the former realizes it cannot send forces to Syria, and ISIS now poses a global threat. At the same time, the Syrian regime has been severely weakened, and the militias affiliated with Iran have failed at their task despite their great numbers.

Turkey’s entry into Syria does not mean going as far as Damascus or other major cities. According to Turkish media reports, what is being discussed is entering a 50-kilometer area inside Syria to secure borders, deter ISIS and provide a political atmosphere for new negotiations to decide the fate of governance in Syria.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on June 30, 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.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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