Is Turkey's third Syria incursion looming?
Senior Turkish officials have been talking about a unilateral military into the northeastern Syria for a very long time in a bid to avoid what they call the formation of a “terror corridor” by the YPG on its border with Syria.
It’s no secret that the YPG has built an enormous military and administrative capacity, as well as political legitimacy, by means of the huge support by the United States since 2015. Around 30 percent of the Syrian territories is under the control of this group which has more than 35,000 well-equipped and trained personnel.
Turkey has enough evidence to show that the YPG stands as the Syrian affiliation of the PKK, recognized as a terror organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union. Many senior American and European officials admit the link between the YPG and the PKK, but they refrain to designate it as a terror band.
Furthermore, Turkish authorities do often question the motives of the continued military support of the U.S. to the YPG although the war against ISIL has already been won. Many in Ankara recall the establishment of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq in the 1990s and express concerns that this trend in Syria may lead to the disintegration of its southern neighbor.
It’s in this context that one should analyze the recent messages conveyed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on three different occasions. In his address to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 24, Erdoğan urged world leaders that Turkey will not tolerate terrorists just across its borders and vowed that the Turkish army will clear the east of Euphrates in Syria of the YPG terrorists.
On Oct. 1, Erdoğan addressed the Turkish Parliament where he demanded the support of all political parties in his government’s fight against terror through a potential cross-border operation into Syria.
The latest statement of his on Oct 5 was interpreted as the announcement of a very imminent operation into Syria. He even implied that the code of the military move would be the Operation Fountains of Peace and called on European and Arab nations to lend a support to Turkey in its probable acts.
If conducted, the Operation Fountains of Peace will be Turkey’s third cross-border operation after Operation Olive Branch in 2018 and Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016.
At the point we have arrived, it seems that Turkey has closed the chapter on creating a safe zone with the U.S. and decided to impose pressure on Washington through its alliance with a terrorist organization.
“Our question for our ally is very open: Do you recognize the PKK-YPG, under the disguise of the Syrian Democratic Forces, as a terror band? Clarify this,” Erdoğan said on Oct 5, bringing once again Turkey’s anger and frustration over the U.S.’s ties with the YPG to the fore.
As all this is happening, Ankara is still waiting for a phone call by U.S. President Donald Trump. A meeting between Erdoğan and Trump could not have been scheduled on the sidelines of the U.N. meetings in late September.
The Turkish president was hoping that he could resolve all pending problems over the safe zone with Trump but that call has never taken place. Lower level talks in the last week were far from reaching a compromise between the two allies. We will see whether Trump will allow time for a phone conversation with Erdoğan before Turkey will resort to a fresh military act.
**This opinion piece was penned on Oct.6 before Erdoğan-Trump phone conversation took place.