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NİHAT ALİ ÖZCAN > Erdoğan’s new Syria strategy

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Everyone is curious about what will happen next. This article intends to focus on some topics in Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s road map. His Tuesday speech gives us a clue that the new strategy focuses on four issues: changing the rules of engagement, extending support to opposition groups, crafting public opinion at home and abroad and, lastly, putting diplomatic pressure on Syria.

Changing the rules of engagement is the most significant component of the strategy together with the support for the opposition groups. Currently, the military conflict probability between the two armies has increased. This new decision, on one hand, will put Bashar al-Assad under psychological pressure while also engaging a significant portion of its conventional military power. As a result, the pressure on the rebels will decrease and, in the medium term, the Syrian army will be psychologically harmed. In this regard, al-Assad will have to deal with Turkey and internal threats at the same time.

Certainly, the success of Erdoğan’s new strategy depends on al-Assad’s approach to new rules and on how serious he will take Erdoğan’s words. Nevertheless, it is clear that al-Assad is in a dilemma. If Syria keeps its soldiers off the Turkish border so as not to increase the tension, then de facto buffer zones through the border will be inevitable. Moreover, a buffer zone with Turkey behind it will be a strategic problem for the al-Assad regime because it may turn out to be a safe haven for insurgents. If al-Assad decides otherwise and chooses to be active along the border, he will have to deal with the constant probability of conflict.

Related to the developments mentioned above, Turkey will increase its “political support” to insurgent groups while also changing the nature of the support. For example, Turkey, which has not provided weaponry to opposition groups so far, might change its decision. Furthermore, Turkey might provide extra aid to reinforce the military capacity of the opposition groups through things like training. In the end, while the conflict in Syria is increasing, al-Assad will have to cope with problems of a differing nature on two fronts.

Apart from this, because of the new rules of engagement, the Turkish government and its military forces have to face unprecedented problems such as transferring authority, rebuilding officers’ self-confidence, resurrecting their eagerness to take responsibility and allowing them to regain the ability to take quick and correct decisions. This is because it is necessary to grant the subordinate units the authority to make the quick decision to open fire in the event of a border violation. However, this means that the significant decisions which may produce political consequences will be transferred to tactical military leaders. What is more important here is that if you do not do this at the right time and in the right case, it will produce a fiasco. On the other hand, there are serious possible risks in the transfer of authority when we think about the traumas following the inquiries into and arrests of officers.

As a result, there will be no conventional war with Syria; Turkey will follow an indirect strategy – the success of which depends on how serious al-Assad will take Erdoğan and his Armed Forces.

June/28/2012

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