Turkey-Russia guarantorship should include US as well
Multiple things are happening at the same time in the Syrian theater. In the last week, Turkish troops and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) made important progress in their offensive on al-Bab in a bid to capture the city from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) jihadists. Some strategic hills and locations have been taken from ISIL after heavy clashes, with hundreds of jihadists being neutralized, but at the cost of increased casualties on the Turkish side.
While the Turkish troops and the FSA are close to fully pushing ISIL from al-Bab, the Syrian regime has also advanced toward the city from the south, cutting the strategic road between al-Bab and Raqqa.
The distance between the Syrian regime and the Turkish troops was reduced to a few kilometers, increasing concerns of a potential clash between the two. In the meantime, it has been reported that minor clashes have taken place between regime forces and the Free Syrian Army, although they were halted after Russian intervention.
At the same time, the tiny airspace over al-Bab and surrounding regions have been heavily occupied by the warplanes of Turkey, Russia, Syria and the coalition forces. Although Turkey and Russia agreed on a memorandum of understanding to better coordinate their respective flights in the region, a bloody accident that claimed the lives of three Turkish troops could not be averted.
Both Turkey and Russia have described the incident as an accident because of a lack of coordination between two militaries.
On the political front, all these developments take place at a moment when Turkey and the new U.S. administration are launching a new process to revive cooperation in all fields, especially in Syria.
Turkey has openly called on the U.S. to ally with it for the upcoming Raqqa operation on the condition that Washington cease supporting the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria. Although President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan earlier said Turkey would not go further south after capturing al-Bab, now the government indicates its will to continue its offensive into Raqqa.
At the point we have arrived, Turkey is displaying a multidimensional policy in Syria: On the one hand, it has declared itself as the guarantor of the cease-fire in Syria along with Russia and Iran and is leading trilateral meetings in Astana with the purpose of creating a healthy ground for the upcoming Geneva talks. And on the other hand; it offers alliance with the U.S. in clearing Raqqa of ISIL. This alliance proposed to the U.S. would surely include creating safe zones in Syria despite the opposition of Syria and Russia.
One important point is the fact that President Donald Trump has not yet crafted a sound and comprehensive plan for Syria. And what Turkey should do is not to try to seek a new balance between Russia and the U.S. but to find a creative solution to include Washington in the recently established Turkey-Russia guarantorship.
The risk for Turkey is that it will find itself the target of major states and non-state actors in the region in the event it cannot control future developments. The accident that caused the death of three Turkish troops should be considered as an important signal for Ankara. It is our sincere wish that today’s accidents won’t become tomorrow’s routine.