Is al-Assad trying to pull Erdoğan into war?
Almost 24 hours after Turkey’s foreign minister said on a TRT television show Oct. 6 that Turkey would retaliate and silence every move on its borders, another Syrian artillery shell fell in the same Akçakale border town. Fortunately, there were no casualties yesterday, less than a week after five civilians were killed due to artillery fire.
Turkish artillery opened retaliatory fire into Syria and the next day Turkish Parliament gave permission to the Tayyip Erdoğan government to carry out military operations in Syria whenever it assessed a threat to the country’s national security. Following a condemnation by the U.N. Security Council, softened by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the main ally of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, there were unconfirmed reports from Damascus saying that the Syrian army would not come within 10 kilometers of the Turkish border.
Besides being impractical for an army trying to regain its border posts and border towns from the hands of rebel forces, the second Akçakale incident in a week added up to another shell dropping on Turkish soil in Hatay province, further west along the border, near the Mediterranean Sea.
In answer to questions that the shells might have been fired by rebel forces in order to pull Turkey into a war with Syria, Turkish officials have said that the shell in the first incident belonged to a D-30 type artillery gun, not a mortar shell as reported earlier. D-30, a 122mm Russian-made heavy artillery gun is part of the standard Syrian army inventory; it can fire shells up to 20 km and is not the type of weaponry that could be used by rebel forces without proper training.
As for the matter of the build up along the Turkish side of the border, it was reported that the Turkish military hit an ammunition depot in Syria in retaliation for yesterday’s shelling. There are also reports that the Turkish Navy, with war time rations, is preparing to sail to the Mediterranean soon.
Another development of interest yesterday was the statement of U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in Montevideo. Answering a question about Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan’s statement last week that Turkey was not fond of but also not so far away from war, Panetta said he worried that “the conflict may escalate and spread to neighboring countries.” (Speaking of ‘countries,’ Israeli flights over Lebanon following an “unidentified” drone shot down in Israeli airspace have to be taken into account; if it belongs to Iran, that might make the picture more worrying.)
Panetta’s statement, the Syrian shelling, the Israeli drone incident and Erdoğan’s warning that Turkey was not bluffing came a week before Putin’s visit to Turkey and a month before U.S. presidential elections in which Barack Obama’s chair will be challenged. Can it be possible that al-Assad is trying to pull Erdoğan into his war and change the course of it by discrediting Turkey, especially given the fact that a majority of Turkish people don’t want to get into a war? Erdoğan has to keep up Turkey’s deterrence on one hand and keep from falling into al-Assad’s trap. That is not an easy job as the whole region is passing through a dire strait.