Turkey's op risks further cooling ties with West, Arab world

Turkey's op risks further cooling ties with West, Arab world

On Oct. 9 at 4 p.m. local time, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced the start of Operation Peace Spring with the objective of creating a safe zone along the Turkish-Syrian border and breaking the YPG’s effort to establish what the Turkish government calls a terror corridor in the enclave. 

A few hours before the start of the operation, Turkey has made necessary notifications to the world powers, including members of the United Nations Security Council, Iran, leading NATO and European Union members on the reasons for the military operation, its legal grounds and Turkey’s objectives. 

It was made clear that Turkey has launched the operation based on its right to legitimate self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the U.N. Charter and U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1373 (2001), 1624 (2005), 2170 (2014), 2178 (2014), 2249 (2015) and 2254 (2015) on the anti-terror fight.

Protecting the territorial integrity of Syria against the YPG’s long-term plans for these territories, enhancing peace and stability in the region by exterminating the YPG and ISIL from the east of Euphrates and therefore, creating conditions for the return of the Syrians to their homeland are listed as the immediate objectives of the operation. 

However, these arguments voiced by the Turkish government have found little support within the Western and Muslim world. 

France and Britain have called for a special meeting of the U.N. Security Council, while the Arab League is poised to convene in the coming days to discuss the Turkish incursion. 

Right after the announcement of the operation, condemnation statements from the aforementioned countries started to pour into wire agencies. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has demanded the cessation of the operation and made clear that the EU will never sponsor the return of Syrians in a way designed by the 

Turkish government. Likewise, Federica Mogherini, foreign and security policy high representative, called Turkey to cease its unilateral operation with concerns that it could further destabilize the war-torn country and complicate efforts for a political solution. 

Many EU countries - France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Netherlands and others - have denounced the Turkish operation while NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg acknowledged that Turkey has “legitimate security concerns” but called for a measured response. He said he will discuss the matter with President Erdoğan in a visit to Turkey on Oct. 11. 

Tougher reaction in case of an excessive operation

One of the important parameters that will define the future relationship between Turkey and these countries will be whether the Turkish operation will be limited and measured in terms of scope and duration or excessive. One of the concerns is that an excessive operation would make international efforts for a political resolution almost impossible, exacerbate humanitarian problems and create conditions for the resurrection of ISIL in the region.  

No green light from the United States

Except for U.S. President Donald Trump, reactions from the United States have also been very harsh. One of the few Turkey-friendly senators, Lindsey Graham, has reached a bipartisan agreement with Democrat Sen.  Chris Van Hollen on imposing severe sanctions against Turkey’s intervention. Even senators most loyal to Trump have reacted because his untimely decision to withdraw troops would mean abandoning the YPG and pave the way for a Turkish incursion against the group. In the face of criticism, Trump said he did not approve the Turkish move and threatened to obliterate the Turkish economy if it hits the Syrian Kurds. Also, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told U.S. media that Washington did not give a green light to the Turkish offensive. 

It’s believed that anger in the U.S. Congress over the Turkish incursion against the YPG would further force the Trump administration to impose sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) over Turkey’s deployment of S-400 air defense systems from Russia. That would complicate Erdoğan’s scheduled meeting with Trump on Nov. 13 in Washington.

As expected, Russia and Iran have preferred not to criticize the Turkish incursion. Both countries seem to be content with the U.S. decision of withdrawal from Syria with calls on Ankara and Damascus to engage in dialogue. 

Erdoğan was harsh against critics

In his first public appearances on Oct. 10, a day after the operation started, President Erdoğan was very harsh against those countries that have condemned the Turkish move. He threatened EU countries to open the doors for 3.6 million Syrians to go to Europe if they slam the operation as an “invasion.” He criticized NATO countries for staying silent when Turkey was attacked by terror organizations. He was also very critical of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. 

In the meantime, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has engaged a new diplomatic effort to soothe the concerns of the European countries by providing information about the operation in an effort to stop growing criticism.

There are signs that Ankara was not expecting that strong criticism from the EU countries. On a question about the probable reaction by EU countries on a Turkish military operation in an interview taken place before the start of the operation, Erdoğan said: “The EU, in general terms, is positive. It’s even beyond being positive. For example, Britain said they can assist. Similar things come from France, as well.”

All these indicate that Turkey’s relationship with prominent Western and Arab nations would further deteriorate in light of the ongoing operation in Syria. This obliges Turkey to pursue very efficient diplomacy, although it seems to be a little late.