Turkey, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Russia

Turkey, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Russia

Is Turkey increasingly tilting toward directly engaging itself in the Syria war? Is it indeed inevitable for Turkey, and therefore NATO, to eventually be bogged down in the Syria war?

Advocates of the creation of a buffer zone are probably aware that they are indeed making a proposition that would eventually pull Turkey into war. Why? How will such a buffer zone be protected from land and air, particularly in view of the Russian-made advanced air defense systems of Syria?

Another option at hand might be declaring an all out war against Syria and occupying the entire country, rather than organizing a safe haven for refugees along the joint border. Can Turkey indeed occupy Syria, restore “normalcy” there, achieve some sort of a transition to democratic governance and withdraw peacefully? Would it be Turkey or the West that would occupy Syria? Of course the West… Would Iran, Iraq and Russia remain spectators to the Western world shedding Turkish blood for the chance to occupy Syria? Would that not be naivety?

Iran has already been involved in the fighting, but is also providing very valuable political and apparently logistical support to the Baath regime in Damascus. Can anyone blame Iran for trying to defend its interests? Syria withdrawing from Lebanon brought the proxy war to Syria, Iran isolating Damascus might bring the war to the doors of Tehran and that might be the dominating assessment among Tehran policy makers. At the end of the day Iran may compromise on Bashar al-Assad, but no one should expect Tehran to agree to give away Syria. Remember the German “Liebensraum” doctrine!

Is Russia merely a big regional power with some weight in its immediate geography or does it have an aspiration to once again become a global power? Downsizing Russia’s Syria policy to its greed of maintaining a base on the Mediterranean would not be an appropriate or wise approach. Of course that base is of great importance for Moscow, but potential successors to the Damascus regime might provide the same base as well. That would be just a matter of fresh bargaining. However, Russia abandoning Syria would indeed be abandoning its dreams of returning as a global game changer.

Thus Russia may compromise on al-Assad at the end of the day, but it will not let anyone even consider the idea that Moscow would abandon Syria. For Moscow, Syria is far more important than just being part of its “Liebensraum.” Remember the very recent $5 billion arms deal signed in Moscow between Iraq’s Shiite prime minister and the Russian leadership. Moscow is not abandoning its long-time ally Syria but enhancing its sphere to Iraq, which has started drifting away from the Western camp (thanks to sectarian-oriented Turkish approaches as well). Can a Shiite-dominated Iraq stay away and allow the fall of the Damascus regime and watch Syria join a Sunni coalition? Turkey, unfortunately, has become part of a Sunni coalition (together with the Saudis and the Qataris). By providing financial assistance and arms this Sunni coalition and its Western supporters converted the Syrian uprising into a civil war. The danger is that this sectarian coalition might backfire at the end of the day and plunge Turkey and the region into sectarian war catastrophe.

Worse, talking about Turkey unilaterally, or as part of a Western coalition looking to willing occupy Syria, are nothing less than trumpeting for the Syria crisis to turn into a regional war, if not a much bigger global war of attrition.