Syria intervention would import trouble
Reports from Damascus underlined Sunday that the Bashar al-Assad regime would abide with the cease-fire agreement brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan, provided the rebels respected the terms of the peace plan as well. What are the key terms of the truce? Government forces will pull out of towns and cities by Tuesday and both government and rebels will lay down their arms by 6 a.m. local time Thursday.
If a cease-fire can be achieved and both the government and rebel violence is halted in Syria, a window of opportunity might emerge for a transition to an era of peaceful reform in our neighboring country, which may satisfy the democratic expectations of the Syrian people. The Annan plan, in that regard, might be the last chance of the Baathist regime to contribute and to steer – at its own expense– the popular demand for reform and avoid the country falling into a civil war along ethnic and sectarian lines.
Will it be possible to achieve a cease-fire? Indications are that before Tuesday’s withdrawal of troops deadline, Damascus will undertake whatever possible to strengthen its position. The rebels, in the hope of getting foreign arms and war machinery assistance - if not direct intervention in the civil war - will most probably engage in all kinds of provocation to be able to tell the international community that the Baathist regime is cheating truce terms. Besides, the international media propaganda machine will likely work hard over the next few days to show that a truce can not be established, and even if it is established can not amount to much.
Russia will probably continue acting with the awareness that “losing Syria” might mean damaging Russian hopes of making a comeback as a global power. Iran will probably act with the awareness that a Syrian withdrawal from Beirut and Bekaa Valley brought war to Damascus; stepping back and leaving Syria alone might bring war to Tehran.
The international “coalition of the willing” on the other hand, has started trumpeting that the Syrian regime will cheat on the terms of the truce even if a cease-fire can be achieved. There is, of course, some degree of distrust towards the al-Assad regime because of its not-so-promising past record with regard to honoring its own words. But, there is also rampant prejudice fuelled by wild expectations of a post-Baathist Syria.
On the way to China – his first-ever visit as Prime Minister – Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan clearly underlined that this country would wait “patiently” to see if Syria abided by first the deadline and later the terms of the cease-fire. However, it has contingency plans and would take “certain steps” if violence did not stop in the neighboring country. Of course, with the number of Syrian refugees in camps in Turkey exceeding 25,000 on the one hand and the potential spillover effect of the developments in Syria, the Ankara government has more than enough reasons to have some contingency plan. Though so far Turkish officials have been categorically ruling out Turkey intervening alone in any shape or form, an intervention might well be in those contingency plans. Still, such an intervention, in the absence of a U.N. mandate and of course excluding Cyprus, would be first in the modern history of Turkey.
A Turkish intervention, however, will bring the Syrian trouble into Turkey. Perhaps it is wiser for Turkey to rescind and re-include the “Westphalian” principles in its foreign policy planning: respect to sovereignty, respect to borders, and non-interference in internal affairs.