The tension in Turkey-Syria relations is rising. For now, no one expects a conventional war. However, this does not mean that there is no struggle. While diplomatic and psychological warfare continue, the preparation for proxy war goes on. Developments show that the parties are setting up the gravity points of their strategies on proxy war, which would be long-standing and abrasive and would have unpredictable results.
Turkey is trying to organize a proxy war by bringing out Syrian opposition groups. However, Turkey is at the first step and its task is difficult. During this period, Syria is busy. It might plan to use the PKK, which is Turkey’s Achilles’ heel, or might plan to trigger sectarian Marxist organizations, which had strong ties during the Cold War with the Syrian intelligence service. Moreover, by getting the support of Iran, it would not be a surprise if it motivated some radical religious groups.
In this sense, I want to draw attention to both Turkey’s and Syria’s proxy war capacity.
Last weekend, there was a small news item in Turkish newspapers. The news was about the success of an officious customs officer. The customs officer suspected two Syrian passengers who had deplaned and checked their suitcases. Those who come from abroad know Turkish customs officers rarely check suitcases. From the Syrians’ suitcases, numerous satellite phones, radios and communication tools were seized. The customs officers confiscated them and reported their success to the Turkish press. In their mind, they deserved a reward. This news is similar to the 88 new model AK 47 Kalashnikovs found in Mardin, Silopi in a cornfield in September 2011. That news can seem to be ordinary and unimportant. However, I think that they are significant points for our topic.
Why? Both news items show us clues about Turkey’s proxy war capacity.
Although the al-Assad regime has been facing gloomy days, it is not an overstatement to say that Syria is ahead in terms of making proxy war compared to Turkey.
There are various reasons. Firstly, Syria’s authoritarian regime gives it the ability to conduct covert operations. However, in Turkey, competition between institutions, distrust and compartmentalization causes difficulties and sometimes turn them into a fiasco. The militaries’ documents have been leaked on the Internet systemically over recent years. Similarly, the negotiations with the PKK
in Oslo were also leaked on the Internet.
Secondly, Syria has historical experience with proxy war. Compared to Syria, Turkey has a lower capacity. Thirdly, Syria has “experienced” allies regarding proxy war to get help from such as Iran
and Russia. In addition, Syria even can provide their orders.
Furthermore, Syria’s assigning meaning to the issue is vital. Thus, its risk-taking capacity extends from Turkey. Lastly, Syria has experienced, ready and efficient organizations such as its former ally, the PKK. Turkey tries to take its road devoid of ideological integrity, without a leader, inexperienced, and with a dispersed structure.
As a result, while center of gravity of the struggle is shifting to proxy war, it will not be a surprise to face interesting developments on the Turkish front.