Turkey not only conducted the “Euphrates Shield” operation in northern Syria successfully from a military perspective, it also planned it very well diplomatically.
The bloody massacre staged by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on Aug. 20 in the southeastern province of Gaziantep at a “henna party” prior to a wedding must have been a significant defining moment.
In the early hours of Aug. 24, the Turkish Armed Forces launched the Euphrates Shield operation against ISIL and the Democratic Union Party (PYD), soon entering Jarablus. On the afternoon of the same day, U.S. Vice President Biden arrived in Ankara. When Biden saw how parliament had been bombed in the thwarted July 15 coup attempt, he likened it to 9/11, when Al-Qaeda hit the Twin Towers in New York.
Biden said Washington would fully support Turkey’s Jarablus operation. He also used a more favorable language on the topic of the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, believed to be behind the coup attempt. This means that Turkey accurately timed its land operation in Syria in terms of relations with USA.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Moscow on Aug. 9, when he held a “crisis-ending” meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, strengthened Turkey’s hand. If such a development had not occurred, it probably would have been very difficult for Turkey to launch the Euphrates Shield operation.
Lighter-toned statements by Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım about the Bashar al-Assad regime are another factor in this diplomatic outlook. Al-Assad has not expressed a particularly fierce reaction against the operation either. And it should not be forgotten that relations with Israel have recently been restored.
Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın said Turkey had informed the U.S., Russia and coalition forces and managed the necessary coordination.
It is apparent that political and military preparation was successful before the operation, though there is no guarantee that this will continue as it is.
Turkey justifiably says the operation will last until the ISIL and PYD terror threat is removed from our border. How broad is the geographic region over which the Euphrates Shield operation can spread? Kalın said an area of around 400 square kilometers in the Jarablus region had been “cleared of terror.” How much wider can this area be expanded? Will the operation expand to Manbij in the south and Al-Bab and Mare in the west?
It is a correct policy for Ankara to avoid any geographic definitions in this matter. But the operation should not be expected to cover a very wide area, as that could cause military problems and the diplomatic climate may change.
Indeed, several voices have started coming from the U.S. The State Department has made balanced statements but the Pentagon is continuing to protect the PYD. If the U.S. had kept its pledge that “the PYD will withdraw to the east of Euphrates” then there may not have been any need to launch the Euphrates Shield operation anyway.
The other day, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zaharova called on Turkey to avoid attacking all ethnic groups fighting ISIL. Russia wants the Euphrates Shield to be conducted only against ISIL. Iran, which supported the Euphrates Shield at the beginning, also issued a statement the other day that could be described as “defiant.”
So the operation has apparently entered a delicate diplomatic stage. On the other hand, the Euphrates Shield has earned Turkey political and to a certain extent military initiative in Syria. It has also demonstrated how the Free Syrian Army (FSA) can be successful if strengthened, making it a better fighter against ISIL than the PYD.
Now is the time for Turkey to repair the damage done to its “democratic state of law” image and strengthen our hand in the Western world. It is time to conduct a more effective diplomacy with all relevant countries for a solution in Syria, even if that includes a “transition with al-Assad.”