Syria issue takes on new meaning for Turkey

Syria issue takes on new meaning for Turkey

Life is full of irony as is foreign policy administration. A mere two years ago, cozying up to Syria and having extremely friendly and gleeful “family photographs” taken with “the al-Assads” was a way of blowing raspberries at the West by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu were trying to show a standoffish Europe at that stage that Turkey has alternatives to the West in this world. It was also a fine opportunity, after having dumped Israel much to the pleasure of Muslims everywhere, to send a message to the Islamic world, indicating that Turkey was “returning to the fold” after the “slavishly pro-Western Kemalist foreign policy.”

Now, however, it’s not just “the al-Assads,” but the regime they represent as well – in fact, it has been the same brutal dictatorship all along with as much “Islamic blood” on its hands as ever – that has become the nemesis of the same AKP.

In the meantime, those in Turkey who point to the irony in this are being accused by senior AKP officials of being “sympathizers of the bloodthirsty Baathist regime,” even if it was the very same “al-Assads” at the time of the friendly family photos.

The downing of a Turkish jet by Syria in what Damascus claims was its airspace has now made the whole Syria debacle for Turkey that much more confusing. The Turkish public – with not a little egging on by the media – is clamoring for a reprisal against Damascus. This makes matters that much more difficult for the Erdoğan government since it is not clear what would satisfy the public short of a strike against Syria.

That, however, is unlikely to happen under present circumstances, since it is apparent to all at this stage that Syria is not on its own as it enjoys strong diplomatic and military backing from Russia and Iran. A unilateral reprisal against Syria could set a chain reaction in the region with results that nobody wants, least of all Turkey.

The other option for Turkey is to try and internationalize the response to Syria through NATO and the United Nations. While it is clear that NATO will stand by Turkey – being more than happy to see it return to the Western fold when push comes to shove – it is very unlikely that it will authorize a retaliatory strike against Syria.

The best that can be expected from the alliance – which is set to meet today to discuss the issue – is a strongly worded condemnation of Damascus. That, however, is unlikely to scare the Syrian regime or satisfy the Turkish public and will most likely be used as fodder for domestic politics in order to hit at the government.

There is also the U.N. Security Council which some expect Turkey to take the matter to. The expectation there of course is for a strong condemnation and warning to be issued to the al-Assad regime. However, if one considers that Russia has more or less confirmed its credentials as an unwavering strategic ally of the Baathist regime, if not the al-Assad administration, it is very unlikely that anything that satisfies Ankara will come out of there too.

In the meantime, it is also possible that both Russia and Iran will work to shore up the Syrian claim that the Turkish jet was in fact in Syrian airspace when it was shot down. Ankara says it was not on any mission against Syria and merely strayed into Syrian airspace by mistake before leaving it immediately and that it was shot down over international waters.

Syria, in the meantime, is trying to downplay the whole thing, and is even giving the impression that it is apologetic, maintaining that it did not know that the jet that had entered its airspace was Turkish. Ankara has, however, indicated that it is not buying that argument and says the strike was a premeditated provocation.

Whether it was or not may never be known. But what we do know at this stage is that the Syrian issue has taken on a completely different meaning for Turkey now, and it is not clear how things will play out.