Turkey: Unwanted ally in an unwilling alliance against Syria

Turkey: Unwanted ally in an unwilling alliance against Syria

Amid a new Western-brewed “war to end war” in the Middle East, the coalition against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has started to fracture even before being formed, while the arch-foe of the Damascus regime, Turkey, has been increasingly isolated in an unwilling pact against Syria.

The British government’s failure to get a nod from the House of Commons for the Syria war late this week has been described as “unexpected,” and indeed it was. But it wasn't unexpected in terms of a possible snag in the international support to the would-be airstrike campaign against al-Assad's forces. Instead, it was unexpected as an excuse for the other European allies and the United States to further delay the long-expected intervention on Syria.

Western countries have been accused of doing nothing and just watching the Syrian catastrophe for more than two years, and there has been a widespread reluctance in Western capitals about taking military action against the al-Assad regime up until the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria. The still-in-question use of chemical weapons in Syria gave the fierce anti-Syria camp, including Turkey, a reason to mount their pressure on moral and humanitarian grounds on the U.S. and its European allies.

The initial cold Western reaction later turned into harsh rhetoric against President al-Assad before turning into a timid discourse that questions both the wisdom and consequences of a possible operation against Syria. In fact, there has been no significant shift in the Western approach to the Syrian crisis after the reports about the use of chemical arms in Syria.

The chances of an intervention are as delusional as they were two weeks ago, despite the frantic efforts by senior Turkish officials who have been left out during the decision-making process about Syria. Despite its posture as the leading figure in a drive against al-Assad, Turkey has been sidelined by its Western partners about the next step on Syria and the intervention, as well as about the future of the country.

Still failing to acknowledge that its regional aspirations have been shelved by the West, notably after its non-negotiable stance on Syria and Egypt, Ankara has become an unwanted ally in an even more unlikely alliance. Turkey’s hopes for a “new Syria” have been dashed after the schizophrenic statements that the U.S. and its European allies are not after a regime change in Syria, despite their frequent calls on al-Assad to step aside over the last two years. That was also a wake-up call for Ankara that its strategy for Syria is no longer viable and that its offer for military help is not welcomed for now, as the West’s doors are not entirely closed to a diplomatic solution.

Weary of failures in military adventures in the last decade in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, Western military figures, particularly those in the U.S., appeared skeptical about the further ramifications of a fruitless war. The discussion is now focusing on a “limited” intervention targeting al-Assad's forces in order to give a sigh of relief to the Syrian rebels after their setbacks on the battlefield, thus making the Damascus regime crestfallen at the negotiation table. The scope of a “limited” intervention has so far been a mystery for the U.S., since Washington has failed to appear with a coherent strategy for its response.

The only clear-cut part of the intervention in Syria is its aim toward the country’s vocal supporters, Iran and Russia. Irked by the recent success of al-Assad forces in Syria thanks to Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters there, the U.S. wants to give a clear message to Tehran that it is to stick to “red lines” in the region, mainly threats on Israel, and to Moscow that it does not need blessings to make these lines clearer.

Ironically, the slow-moving U.S. efforts on Syria are also tied to a new kind of proxy war that would pose more threats to its ally, Israel, so Washington is thinking more than twice before taking any steps on Syria. One need not be a genius to expect a direct or indirect response from Iran on Israel after U.S. aggression on Syria. A direct confrontation between Israel and Iran seems a far-fetched scenario for now, but the long-anticipated conflict has been waiting for a spark and military action on Syria carries the high risk of fuelling that fire.

The “limited” intervention option has been feeding doubts, since its futile effects would hardly change the balances of the ongoing civil war, especially amid the vows of not aiming for a regime change in the country. Intimidating, Yugoslavia-style attacks on Syria have a high possibility of turning into a total failure, which would count as a victory for al-Assad, who would be more confident after the U.S. reaches its fizzling limits in his country. Furthermore, he will be the new “anti-U.S. hero” for a region suffering under fresh Western aggression in the Middle East.

Another irony of the Syria mission for the West is that the attacks would create a further vacuum in the country, eliciting fears that it would be filled by the worst nightmare, al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra fighters, instead of “moderate” Syrian rebels. That’s the reason for the West not taking swift military decisions and instead engaging in timid brinkmanship with Syria and its supporters. Otherwise, the U.S. and its allies have to fight on two or perhaps more fronts, in which they would never know who their foe or friend is.