Turkish officials have explained that the objective of “Operation Olive Branch” is to protect Turkey’s national interests, eradicate terrorist targets in and around the Syrian city of Afrin and to enhance a belt of stability and security along the Turkish-Syrian border.
For months, Turkey has called on the United States and Britain to stop supporting the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey has considered the Syrian affiliate of the clandestine separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). However, all of Turkey’s calls have fallen on deaf ears, as both Washington and London have continued to provide all sorts of heavy war machines and ammunition to the PYD, under the pretext of fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists. Such assistance from the U.S. has even included war machinery and drones that Washington has refused to sell Turkey so far.
Frustration could perhaps help describe the spirit in Turkish-American relations. A summary of the situation might be that “unilateral actions by the United States in Iran and Syria have infuriated Turkey” according to a statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in an interview with the Kommersant newspaper.
Talk that the United States might unleash an embargo program or even impose some sanctions on Turkey might indicate the worst is yet to come in Turkish-American relations. The so-called Zarrab case—the verdict of which will be delivered in April—might end up impacting relations between Ankara and Washington like a hurricane.
Turkey and the U.S. have recently come out of a three-month-long visa crisis. However, relations between Ankara and Washington have been spoiled by the continued Pennsylvania refuge of Fethullah Gülen, the Islamist scholar who Turkey has blamed for masterminding the failed July 2016 coup, and indiscreet accusations from Turkish officials, including the president, that the U.S. intelligence network might have been behind the coup attempt.
Was Afrin a product of such a frustrated psychology in Ankara? That might be an underestimation, though “frustration with the U.S.” and a determination by the Turkish presidency to demonstrate Turkey’s capability to act alone must be underlined. The Afrin operation might be an answer from Ankara to the U.S., as well as some other NATO allies, that the Cold War era has come to an end and Turkey will no longer accept to be the subservient and dependent state of a global power.
The Americans have probably miscalculated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as a factor, assuming Turks would make a lot of noise but would not undertake anything worth mentioning. Otherwise, if Turkey was a valuable ally or a “strategic partner,” then why would the U.S. ignore all calls from Turkey and continue to engage with the Syrian PYD, who Ankara considers an affiliate of the terrorist PKK?
Turkey could not allow to become sieged or cut off from the Arab world by a corridor of Kurds along the Syrian border. Turkey could not allow for the Iraqi and the Syrian Kurdish regions to be united. Turkey could not allow its entire border with Syria, and most of its border with Iraq, to be controlled by Kurdish elements. Turkey could not allow the border regions of Syria and Iraq to be converted into staging posts for PKK attacks inside Turkey. Lastly, Turkey could not allow a U.S. death machine provided to the PYD and some elements of which have already started to be captured in operations on the PKK, to end up in the hands of PKK.
For months, Ankara explained this to Washington, London, Paris, Berlin and other NATO allies. Unfortunately, Turkey kept receiving the same blurred answer: “We understand your security concerns, but our fight is with ISIL. Once ISIL is eradicated, we will take back the arms.”
Turkey has said it cannot be sidelined regarding the operation in Afrin. It has also said Turkish security is not secondary to the threat perceptions of Washington, London or others and that it should be listened to carefully before any step is taken in this region.