The Syrian puzzle for beginners
When the new cabinet emerges from the mayhem of the newly sworn-in parliament, its biggest problem will be Syria. It is not just the refugee issue that will need to be addressed. Turkey’s longest border has turned into a fishing net and Turkish Armed Forces are trying desperately to secure it.
After four years of fighting, hundreds of thousands of people dead, even more displaced, Syria has shown that it is not Libya, nor Yemen. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has managed to survive the civil war even though it meant withdrawing to the coastline. According to my sources, Russia has decided to downgrade its assistance to the Damascus regime and Russian soldiers based in the Tartus base are getting smaller in number. This may be the result of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s negotiations with the U.S. “Crimea and Ukraine became more important to defend,” said one of my sources, “And it seems the U.S. will want to contain Russia in the north rather than get into a fight in the south.”
Iran on the other hand is raising its stakes in Syria. Just like what Syria did in Lebanon to create a balance against fighting factions in the 1970s, Iran will probably be actively involved in defending places like Damascus and Latakia against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) if it dares to move in that direction.
A security and intelligence analyst told me that despite all the danger emerging in the south, Turkish Armed Forces have no intention of sending troops into Syria. “Whether it is 50 meters or 30 kilometers does not matter. If a single Turkish soldier enters into Syrian soil, it could mean several layers of danger inside Turkey” he said.
Take the Syrian intelligence for example. There are reports that during the last influx of refugees last week, not only ISIL sympathizers and their families entered Turkey. There were also several members of Syrian intelligence that entered from the fences. “Some live in the big cities, some in the border towns. But they are definitely present. If Turkey sends troops into Syria, one could only fear how many bombs can explode inside Turkey’s resort towns or big cities,” my source added.
Ankara’s fears of a Kurdish corridor are not completely unfounded. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq emerged out of a similar discourse and denial of decades. The most important factor this time is that al-Assad may not be completely against this idea. Berna Türkili, a Turkish businesswoman operating in the Kurdistan region of Iraq for 10 years, told me that KRG President Masoud Barzani had been invited by al-Assad in 2013 to cooperate with the Kurds of Syria against Al Nusra. “Barzani had listened but had not made an official commitment,” Türkili said.
Intelligence sources from Ankara told me the chairman of the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD), Salih Muslim, was in Ankara last week to receive a formal and a serious warning. He was told in very strict terms that “Turkey would not allow a single sign of a Kurdish corridor” and that “attempts to form such a thing would mean the Turkish Republic against the Kurdish population in Northern Syria.”
Summer is slowly moving and Turkey’s tourism revenues have suffered for the second year in a row. Turkey’s economy is entering the toughest autumn and winter. As the Syrian quagmire gets bigger and bigger, the new politicians of the republic have to make some very tough decisions regarding Syrian policy. And the clock is ticking.