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Will Turkey Invade Syria? Can The West Find New Calculus For Intervention? – OpEd


Noah Blaser of Zaman, the Turkish paper, suggested Turkey may be preparing to invade Syria. Reporters at his paper insist that Deputy Foreign Minister Naci Koru’s remarks that tomorrow “a new period will begin” in Turkey’s Syria policy is not more rhetorical bluster.

Here is my response to his note, which is copied below.

Landis: Turkish statesmen, no doubt, feel great pressure to take action in Syria. Who would not be outraged by the Syrian attack on refugees and Turkish workers within Turkey? The humanitarian crisis is appalling. Ankara doubtlessly sees the refugee problem on its border going from bad to worse. Syria is a mess. Neither restrained by Damascus nor discouraged from using the most inhuman methods to regain control of rebel towns, Syrian soldiers are acting with total impunity. All reluctance to barbarism has evaporated.

All the same, I find it hard to imagine that Turkey will invade.  Perhaps Turkey will up the ante in some way to hurt Syria in an effort to dissuade it from allowing its soldiers to act so disrespectfully. Something must be done. But Syria is a swamp. Its Kurdish region could secede to join Iraq. And the US does not want to get in the middle of a civil war. The Turkish government seems loath to take decisive action against Syria without firm US and European guarantees of partnership and commitment to clean up any mess afterward.

I cannot see Turkish officials allowing their fit of peek to overtake their national interest. Turkey can only lose if it invades alone. In all probability, should Ankara invade, it would not be able to extract itself from Syria until the Syria regime was toppled, Alawite power destroyed, and a substitute government put in place. That is a very tall order.

The problem with Syria is that if one regards it with nothing but cold calculation, Assad remains the lesser of possible evils, which could be chaos, lawlessness, or militia infighting. The opposition has shown no capacity for uited leadership. It cannot impose order on itself let alone bring order to Syria.

The US, equally, can count few substantial benefits from intervention in Syria. Pundits claim that the present situation presents a once in a life time opportunity to hurt Iran, help Israel, and change the balance of power in the region. But, Iran is already hurt by Assad’s weakness. The Iranian economy is already weak and they government continues to throw good money after bad at Syria. Syria cannot harm its neighbors. It is a moral and military liability for Hizbullah. Hamas has decamped from Damascus already. The Assad regime as it stands today is a threat to no one save Syrians.

Syria is a moral and humanitarian disaster. It begs for a humanitarian solution. But it is not a grave security threat. It will only become a security threat when the regime falls. There is nothing to take its place. I suspect regional statesmen are imagining all sorts of worst case scenarios should the regime fall: the spread of jihadism and al-Qaida, civil war, the possible break up of Syria, a rising death toll, and increased refugee outflows. Who can assure them that these nightmares would not become real? Assad has always insisted that without him Syria would fall apart and the region would face chaos or worse. He once threatened that should foreign powers intervene, Syria would be worse for them than a hundred Afghanistans. He is still making that calculation. It is possible that world leaders are too; although they running the numbers in the hope of finding a new calculus for the Syria dilemma.

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Noah Edwars Blaser [[email protected]], Monday, April 09, 2012
Subject: A “new period” in Turkey’s Syria plans

 Dear Joshua,

I’m sure you’ve heard of the border incident and Deputy Foreign Minister Naci Koru’s remarks that tomorrow “a new period will begin” in Turkey’s Syria policy.

We’ve heard this sort of thing before, but my contacts in Ankara are telling me that the government is truly furious over the refugees, the shootings, and the current peace plan fiasco. Nobody is of course calling for war outright, but the talk of the town does seem to have swung yet closer towards the intervention side of things.

You can get a sense of the “shift” here with the article below. The correspondent who wrote it is well connected to upper circles in Ankara, and the piece is representative of the tone of experts I’ve talked to.

I also want to add (and this is my personal reading of things) that there is more and more talk of Syria “bowing to Turkish military threats” or basically avoiding the Turkish military if it entered a small section of northern Syria, and less talk about the ease with which a conflict might escalate if Turkey militarily enforced a relief corridor. You will see in the article below – there’s not even a little requisite hypothesizing about what might happen if things might spiral out of control.

Maybe just more “upping the rhetorical bar,” but I thought you would be interested

The article is in today’s Zaman. Here are the relevant excerpts:

“What will happen if the UN cannot get its act together, and Russia and China end up using their veto powers for the third time? Ankara will probably invoke the 1998 Adana agreement with Syria to justify the military interference while calling on NATO members for the application of the Article 5 of the NATO Charter…

On Oct. 20, 1998, both Turkey and Syria signed the Adana Agreement, which set out very explicit terms for preventing PKK activities in Syria. It squarely puts all the responsibility on the Syrian government in this matter. For example, Article 1 of the Adana Agreement states that Syria will not permit any activity on its territory aimed at jeopardizing the “security and stability of Turkey.” Be it PKK terrorism or a crackdown on the opposition, both would be considered threats that seriously jeopardize the “security and stability of Turkey” — in which case Turkey reserves the right to take necessary measures for self-defense, including armed interference into Syrian territory to contain the threat…

Syria has bowed to Turkish pressure before. In the late 1990s, Bashar’s father Hafez al-Assad caved under the pressure mounted by Turkey, and finally stopped harboring the fugitive PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and expelled him from Damascus

But the most comprehensive deal came in 2010 when the two sides inked a significant agreement on cooperation against terror. It was signed on Dec. 21, 2010 by Davutoğlu and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem and ratified by the Turkish Parliament on April 6, 2011. This agreement has 23 articles, which have important implications for Turkey. For example, Article 7 of the agreement gives both parties the right to conduct joint operations in each other’s territory. If Turkey officially recognizes the Syrian National Council (SNC) as the only legitimate government of Syria, which is likely to happen in the upcoming Paris meeting of the Friends of Syria if Assad fails to follow through on the Annan plan, it can very well secure the consent of the SNC to launch joint operations with the Free Syrian Army against Assad’s forces.

All in all, the urgency to act against the Assad regime’s aggression on its own citizens, in order to stabilize the country as soon as possible, is a sensitive issue for the national security of Turkey. For that Ankara is willing, even determined, according to some officials, to invoke unilateral or multilateral legal remedies at its disposal. It clearly prefers the multilateral approach for the time being. But when push comes to shove, Turkey will not hesitate to act alone, as it did in 1998 in Syria or in 1975 in Cyprus. Watch out for the signal that will indicate that Turkey is ready to act: When the government decides to seek a mandate from the Turkish Parliament for troop deployment in a foreign country, as it must according to the Constitution, it will mean the real warning shot for military incursion into Syria has already been fired.”

Annan’s Letter to UNSC – last two paragraphs

…..But recent events are deeply concerning. The prevailing security and human rights situation is unacceptable. This crisis has lasted for more than one year, has produced an intolerably heavy death toll and is now triggering increased flows of refugees throughout the region. Earlier this morning, I saw. with my own eyes the devastating impact of the crisis in a refugee camp in Turkey, close to the border with Syria. The scale of the suffering of the Syrian people is clear. A cessation of violence is urgent.

The Syrian leadership should now seize the opportunity to make a fundamental change of course. It is essential that the next 48 hours bring visible signs of immediate and indisputable change in the military posture of the Government forces throughout the country, as called upon by the six point plan, and that items (a), (b) and (e) of paragraph 2 of the six point plan are fully implemented, to enable a cessation of armed violence on 12 April. We urge the opposition also to fulfill their commitments to the six-point plan and give no excuse for the government to renege on its commitments. The clear declarations coming from the opposition are encouraging in this respect.

Susan Rice (@AmbassadorRice) 4/9/12: “After all this time & bloodshed–after all the commitments made & promises broken–we are facing a moment of truth. #Syria”…. If #Syria refuses to implement Annan’s plan despite its commitments, then Russia/China have to be prepared to follow their words w/actions.”

Saudi Defense Minister Salman also in DC tomorrow, coinciding w mtg of Quartet principles – Clinton, Lavrov, Ban Ki-moon & Ashton #syria

Syrian military vengeance on Anadaan: the following video shows footage of the poor town that makes up part of Aleppo’s norther suburbs. It was opposition turf for some months before recent military operations in the area – part of the regime’s “clear and hold” counter-insurgency strategy.

Syria Comment - Joshua Landis

Joshua Landis maintains Syria Comment and teaches modern Middle Eastern history and politics and writes on Syria and its surrounding countries. He writes “Syria Comment,” a daily newsletter on Syrian politics that attracts some 3,000 readers a day. It is widely read by officials in Washington, Europe and Syria. Dr. Landis regularly travels to Washington DC to consult with the State Department and other government agencies. He is a frequent analyst on TV and radio.

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