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MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

mab@hurriyet.com.tr

MEHMET ALİ BİRAND > Shifting toward close combat with Syria

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Was Turkey too rash on the Syria issue? Or, did it attribute itself too much to the toppling of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that now, as it cannot accomplish any results, is getting tougher? Did it engage in an unnecessary friction at the expense of magnifying the dimensions of the incident, pulling superpowers into the matter, and damage relationships with Iran? 

We can discuss all of these questions, but today I want to show you the snapshot of the latest situation. The reason for this is that signs that the situation is highly strained are increasing and it may shift all the way to hot clashes.

The prime minister, when he departed for China, said, “U.N. representative Annan set a deadline of April 10. We are waiting for al-Assad’s response. After that, we will start taking our steps.” That deadline has come and there is no satisfactory step from al-Assad. He is trying to gain time and is doing it with cosmetic steps.

You wouldn’t have expected anything other than this anyway. 

Al-Assad is in a fight that he may be losing in the long run but for the moment he seems to be in control of the situation. The opposition challenging him is both weak and its firepower is low. Since he gained support from Russia, Iran and China, he had a relative relief. His self-confidence increased. 

Turkey alone continues to lead the Syrian opposition in the region. Moreover, because of its influential position, the eyes of the West, from Washington to Paris, are on Ankara. 

Well, what will happen after this? 

It is impossible for Erdoğan to stay just a spectator. He is constantly giving signs that he would not anyway.

The latest news shows that the number of refugees is increasing. With the rate of this increase, the probability that a buffer zone will be formed inside Syrian territory is also increasing. The official name of this is an invasion of Syria. Take one more step and it means Turkey and Syria are at war. 

Just as al-Assad is engaged in a struggle that is impossible for him to win, Erdoğan also is at the point of no return. He cannot say, after this point, “Well, what can we do? If the U.N. cannot do anything, then we will climb to the spectator seats and just watch.”

Because of this, we are sailing to extremely dangerous waters. 

Iran is trying to please us but the vase is broken now 

I do not know which one to believe. 

There are such complicated signs coming from Iran, there are so many different voices expressed that whoever can understand this deserves a big “bravo.” It was only a few days ago that they declared, “We have given up Istanbul as a venue,” and triggered the prime minister’s harsh reaction. After that, with new statements in Iranian Parliament on Turkey’s acting dishonestly, they’ve put salt on the wound. A few more days have passed and now it has been announced that nuclear talks will be held in Istanbul on April 13.
I know there is a power struggle in Iran between radicals and ruling powers. The final say is with the government but one should not underestimate those other voices.

Iran seems to have made its choice. It does not regard Turkey as an influential player at nuclear talks. It sees it as a neighbor that might help. In other words, maintaining the support of Ankara is not that important. On the other hand, on the subject of Syria, Turkey has a decision-making leadership position. 

The Turkish-Iranian vase that the Erdoğan-Davutoğlu duo designed has cracked once. Relations from now on will not collapse but will never be at the ideal line either. Mutually, reluctantly, they will exist with calculations on what kind of a game the other is about to play.

April/10/2012

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