Has the Turkish operation succeeded?
Without hiding behind words, it must be honestly and frankly confessed that all those who were skeptical, if not critical, of the Turkish Operation Peace Spring, might have made a huge assessment mistake. At the end of the day, yes, with some high tension and some serious fighting and painful casualties, the Turkish operation achieved most, if not all, of its targets.
What was the target the Turkish operation aimed to achieve? Of course, not only Operation Peace Spring but also Operation Euphrates Shield and Operation Olive Branch must be evaluated together. Turkey did not want to be cut off from Syria and Iraq with what it considered a “belt of terrorism” endangering Turkey’s national security and integrity. Particularly, Turkey did not want to see a repeat of a “Poised Hammer,” this time in northern Syria and evolution of the PYD and its military wing YPG, the Syrian extension of the separatist terrorist PKK into a full-fledged autonomous body like the situation created in northern Iraq by the United States-led “coalition of the willing.”
For those who don’t remember how the Poised Hammer situation evolved, perhaps I should remind you. At the end of 1991, Turkey, all of a sudden, found some 500,000 people piled up on the mountain slopes on the Turkish border with Iraq. These were the Kurdish local people escaping the wrath of Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein who was trying to punish the Kurds because of their collaboration with the Americans during the First Gulf War. It was an immense and traumatic problem. Unlike to the latest “open doors” policy that resulted in millions of refugees seeking shelter in Turkey and beyond, with the “help” of a U.S.-led coalition, a safe zone was created in northern Iraq, and the Americans established a special force, the so-called “Poised Hammer” based at Turkey’s İncirlik (Adana) and Pirinçlik (Diyarbakır) bases. The Turkish military was not part of it. Attempts by the Turkish government to get parliamentary authorization and join the operation failed repeatedly in the legislature while the Americans were given the go-ahead.
Turkish officials, like the present-day complaints that the Americans were hand-in-hand with the Kurdish terrorists in northern Syria, were lamenting that U.S. troops were supporting, abetting and even training the separatist PKK elements, dropping foodstuffs, ammunition as well as other material near their hideouts.
All along in the latest discussions, Turkey opposed creation of a safe haven in northern Syria under the protection of an international military framework. Was Turkey scared that a similar situation would happen in northern Syria? There were more than enough reasons – and lately confessions by American senators and even the president – that apart from taking control of hydrocarbon resources and transport lines, the U.S. was particularly interested in contributing to the Israeli security.
Turkey’s three operations could, of course, be averted with efficient diplomatic efforts if or should Turkey’s Western allies act in full awareness of the spirit of common defense and common security, realize the threat directed at Turkey and see that if Syria’s territorial integrity is hampered, Turkey’s territorial integrity would be seriously threatened.
Who won and who lost in the last two diplomatic victories - the Turkey-U.S. deal and the Turkey-Russia (and Syria) deal? Of course, the clear winner is Russia, and the clear loser is the United States. Turkey managed to express itself and get recognition (and legitimacy) for its national defense moves while Syria’s Basher al-Assad government emerged as a credible and legitimate party with which directly or indirectly must be considered for anything to be done in Syrian territory.
The Sochi deal, beyond reaffirming once again the patronage of Russia over Syria, was a clear indication that military operations, when and if done with a clear objective and on a firm legitimate ground might contribute to diplomatic efforts.