Turkey welcomes US return to Syrian theater

Turkey welcomes US return to Syrian theater

Apart from Russia and Iran, the entire world applauded the military operation carried out by the U.S. against the Syrian regime early on April 7 in retaliation against the latter’s chemical attack near Idlib, which killed dozens of civilians including children.

U.S. President Donald Trump made clear that such inhumane attacks will not be left unpunished and implied that he would not hesitate to give similar orders to the army after future chemical or biological attacks. 

Like the rest of the world and members of the U.S.-led international coalition fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Turkey also welcomed the action taken by the Trump administration, while repeating demands for more. 

One of the most important results of the U.S. move is the fact that it signals the return of the U.S. to the Syrian unrest by taking a direct step against the Bashar al-Assad regime, which has long enjoyed the freedom to commit serious crimes against humanity under the protection of the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Al-Assad will have to be aware that his probable actions against civilians in Syria will no longer be left unpunished. 

Although this missile attack has been described as a single strike by Pentagon officials, it clearly shows that the U.S. administration will be much more active in the field in the coming period. 

This attack is also a message to Russia, stressing that there is a new administration in Washington and the Russians will no longer be alone in displaying its military force in the field. This comes before Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow next week, where two global rivals will come around the same table to discuss all dimensions of bilateral ties. 

The Americans have been clear that they are not planning to escalate tension with more attacks, especially on the eve of the Raqqa operation against ISIL. They will also be careful to not further weaken the al-Assad regime for the very same reason. 

From the Turkish perspective, the attack is seen as a beginning. All Turkish leaders have underlined that the chemical attack by the regime necessitates the establishment of terror-free safe zones inside Syria, along the lines that President Trump previously mentioned. President Erdoğan recalled this point in his address on April 7, reiterating Ankara’s position on this more strongly. 

It should be noted that this attack came at a moment when the Turkish leaders were beginning to reveal their disappointment at the new American administration more loudly, especially after the recent Tillerson visit to Ankara. It therefore came right on time for the sake of Turkish-American ties, though it’s too early to say that it will fully save this relationship.

It has also allowed Turkey to repeat its years-long rhetoric in favor of the ousting of al-Assad from the power, as such a bloody-handed leader cannot create a unified state in Syria. In a statement that came one week after Washington made clear that al-Assad was not a priority, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said the U.N. processes to establish an interim government should exclude al-Assad.

Çavuşoğlu told reporters that he would make phone calls with Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to follow up the chemical attack in Idlib and to find ways to stop such atrocities in the future. Obviously, Turkish diplomacy will try to use this opportunity in the best way. 

Although Ankara’s expectations will not be delivered at once and fully, the Turkish government will continue to welcome the first action taken by the Trump administration.