A step before ‘security zone’?
As Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was representing the al-Assad regime as a “clear and present danger” to Turkey’s security Tuesday, Syrian rebels were clashing with Syria’s elite Republican Guard forces just outside Damascus.
Wire reports indicated that this was the most intense fighting involving the Republican Guards (commanded by al-Assad’s brother, Maher), who have been tasked with guarding Damascus since the uprising against the al-Assad regime began in March 2011.
With more weapons provided to the Free Syrian Army in recent weeks, the rebels seemed to have intensified their armed struggle against the regime as efforts to expel the regime turn increasingly militarized.
Amid clashes, more defections from the Syrian army, including high-ranking officers, prove the discomfort in the Syrian security forces. In an interview Sunday, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said he believed there were numerous Syrian officers who want to defect but could not do so as their family members could be hurt.
No need to recall that the Syrian leadership is of the belief that all these military fights are being coordinated by Turkey, who arms rebels along with Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
It’s hard to estimate to what extent this psychology of the al-Assad regime was behind the downing of the Turkish jet in international airspace on June 22.
On the international scene, the NATO Council announced its solidarity with Turkey and condemned Syria, as expected, while the United States and the United Kingdom issued separate condemnation statements. Russia, however, said Syria’s downing of the jet should not be viewed as a provocation or an intentional move. Every party stands by its own allies.
Russia’s acceptance to join the June 30 meeting of the U.N. in Geneva to discuss the turmoil in Syria is of course an important development. It’s not yet certain who will participate in the meeting but Turkey already said it would be present there. The Geneva meeting will be followed by the Friends of the Syrian People group meeting in Paris on July 6 and is expected to set a turning point in the 15-month old efforts.
In Ankara, the measures outlined by Erdoğan yesterday will no doubt make the 900 kilometer-long border one of the world’s most dangerous lines. The Syrian military is massing heavily near towns in the northern part of the country, areas close to the Turkish border.
In a move to stop Syrians from fleeing across the Turkish border, the Syrian military chases them and shoots at them from behind, which sometimes wounds Turkish citizens on the other side of the border. Furthermore, a massive influx as a result of military operation in Aleppo, for example, would introduce a larger security problem which could push Turkey to take its own precautions.
It is perhaps early to talk about, but Erdoğan’s words could also be interpreted as signals of future military measures that would not exclude establishing security zones on some parts of the Syrian border.