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NİHAT ALİ ÖZCAN > Turkey’s and Syria’s proxy war capacity

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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.

July/05/2012

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Joshua Bronxman

7/5/2012 4:58:10 PM

Syria has a lot on its plate as the insurgency becomes larger.There may be some proxy actions carried out against Turkey but nothing decisive.The major powers benefited from the status quo, not war.The Syrian population didn't benefit from the S.Q.

MR Somalia

7/5/2012 8:18:06 AM

Turkey is new aggressor in the region because it wants to divert attention from its own Kurdish issues. This is not new. When Saddam wanted the same he invaded Iran. But where is he now? Turkey can run but it wont hide.

Blue Dotterel

7/5/2012 8:11:05 AM

The WSJ article indicates to us that when the US finally pushes Turkey into a conventional war with Syria, or possibly Iran, that it will blame Turkey for it and claim it has nothing to do with the war. Thus we will see an Iran, Iraq war scenario where all sides, irrespective of who "wins" wears down their military strength. This will enable the US to ultimately realize its foreign policy objective of remaking the ME so that it will be easier to exploit its markets and resources.

Blue Dotterel

7/5/2012 8:02:57 AM

Turkey's proxy war is NATO's proxy war, and has been fought for 16 months now. Turkey is just the tool through which it is waged. After all, Turkey has had no reason to fight Syria, but the US, who controls NATO, and Israel have a deep interest in undermining the independent Assad government, so that Israel can feel more secure when it attacks Iran. Turkey will eventually be pushed by the US into a hot war with Syria or Iran in order to weaken Turkey's military and economy.

Tevfik Alp

7/5/2012 6:07:40 AM

Syria the insignificant neighbour? It seems like they have a lot more in their sleeves without their allies Russia, China and their Kurds.

Hasan Kutlay

7/5/2012 2:47:12 AM

interesting if the proxy war capacity of Syria against Turkey goes further then the PKK-card. I didn't think of that yet as a possibility.
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