The highly inflammable Turkish-Syrian border
The level of debate in the Turkish Parliament on Tuesday was not something to be proud of. After underlining boldy that “We do not want our childrens’ blood to be shed in the Arabian deserts,” Kemal Kılıçldaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) attacked Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, saying “[He] must be a top-notch idiot” to have dragged Turkey into such a position. He also said that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s main problem was his “inflated ego,” which he should give up at once for the sake of the nation.
Erdoğan’s words against Kılıçdaroğlu were no less inflammatory; he said Kılıçdaroğlu must have been an ally of Bashar al-Assad and a supporter of the Baath Party, because of his Alawite connections, in order to promote remaining silent in the face of the killing of five Turkish civilians by shelling from Syria. According to Erdoğan, Kılıçdaroğlu was betraying the Turkish people on behalf of the murderous Syrian regime.
While this skirmish of words was going on in the Parliament in Ankara, the Turkish Armed Forces released official pictures of Gen. Necdet Özel, the chief of Turkey’s General Staff, inspecting troops and key military posts along the 910-kilometer border with Syria. The past few days there have been a lot of military pictures taken and released showing Turkish heavy artillery units, tank batallions, missile batteries and troops piling up along the border, F-16 jet fleets shifted from western Anatolia bases to the southeast, warships setting sail for the Mediterranean with wartime rations, and on top of all this there have been high-level warnings from President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Davutoğlu.
According to a military expert who asked not to be named, the situation along the border is becoming highly inflammable.
“The Syrian regime has very little left to lose,” he said. “If Turkey retaliates more strongly next time and kills Syrians, then that would only add a few more to the casualties on the Syrian side. But if another shell from Syria side kills more Turks, civilians or soldiers, God forbid, then the Turkish government, with Parliament’s authority in its hand, and all that troop buildup, may be under further pressure to act.” No one can guess where it would stop, if a chain reaction were to start, the expert said.
Such a provocation may not be centrally organized by Damascus, a burned-out or side-changing low-ranking officer or even an accident could start such a fire. The border is more vulnerable today than yesterday in that sense.
Together with the troop buildup on the Turkish side, the tone of statements from NATO has begun to change as well. NATO revealed on Tuesday that it is ready to support Turkey in the event that that becomes necessary. This was NATO’s first such statement since the Syrian crisis started.
If no accident or provocation takes place first, there are two main thresholds in sight regarding the tension along the Turkish-Syrian border. The first is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Turkey, planned for next week. Erdoğan believes that without Putin’s support, al-Assad could not remain in power for one more day. The second one is the U.S. presidential elections early next month, in which Barack Obama will try to keep his position. Erdoğan believes that the U.S.’s position regarding Syria will change after the election, becoming tougher against al-Assad. But everything could change at any moment under the current circumstances.