Stooge or boss of the neighborhood?
The war drums are beating hard. Academics, retired soldiers, strategists and, of course, “veteran journalists” have occupied news channels, front pages of newspapers and, of course, the social media, stressing that if it did not want to be the stooge of the neighborhood, Turkey was compelled to retaliate in kind and march on Syria, which dared to test the patience of Turks… Oh la la… As if they are going to fight Syria, blood was pouring out of their words…
It has been wrong for Turkey to “proactively support” rebels in the Syrian civil war. The arrogant, bossy style of the Turkish leadership has devastated Turkey’s potential role of being an arbiter in the problems of its region. But today cannot be the day to criticize the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), its foreign policy and its neo-Ottomanist hallucinations. Turkey came under attack and that attack could not be left unanswered.
Obviously Turkey could not accept being treated as if it is the stooge of the neighborhood. Remaining silent on the murder of five of its citizens by artillery fire from Syria would be impossible for any government in office. Besides, the deadly bombing came days after Turkey presented Syria with a protest note over a similar but less lethal “stray bomb” that fell on Akcakale, warning that if repeated, the consequences would be very dire for the Bashar al-Assad regime. Turkey was compelled to retaliate and it did. Turkey’s retaliatory and surgically decided bombardments of the very same “military targets” that fired on Akcakale and killed five Turkish nationals demonstrated Turkey’s “restrained response” but also delivered a last warning to Damascus: We are fed up!
The swift declaration by NATO late Wednesday night not only condemned the Syrian bombing as a “flagrant violation of international law” but precisely highlighted the principles of “indivisibility of security” of NATO territory and the “solidarity” of NATO members. Does that mean if things further deteriorate into a Turkish-Syrian confrontation NATO will also become involved? Theoretically, yes, and hopefully the accuracy of the hypothesis will not be put to the test. Still, it was a relief for Turkey to see the alliance standing so firmly committed to the principles of the “indivisibility of security” and the “solidarity” of allies.
The United Nations Security Council meeting on Turkey’s official request filed yesterday will most probably condemn the Syrian aggression, thus providing the pretext for a future intervention should such provocations continue. Furthermore, Parliament swiftly decided Thursday to authorize the government to undertake, if needed, cross-border military operations in Syria. That mandate could easily open the way to unilateral action by the Turkish military inside Syria, with or without the involvement of its allies.
Should Turkey walk down that road? Hopefully not. The support of the international community, the cross-border operation into Syria and the surgical bombardment being carried out have hopefully boosted Turkey’s deterrence capability. Syria must have learned well that Turkey cannot be treated as the stooge of this region.
On the other hand, with the United States gearing up for the November presidential vote, perhaps the pretext of a post-election Syria operation has been laid down. Now it has become more legitimate than ever to demand a buffer zone along Turkey’s Syrian border with or without a U.N. resolution. Not only to host refugees outside of Turkey, but to keep al-Assad’s artillery fire away from Turkish towns as well!