IT is understood why Ankara is persistently demanding that the US stop arming Kurdish groups in Syria, particularly the Democratic Union Party (PYD). Turkey perceives them as a danger to its stability and unity, especially after the Western alliance picked them as its agent in Syria in the fight against Daesh.
When Ankara took notice of the Syrian-Kurdish game, it waged battles against Daesh in Operation Euphrates Shield, then against Al-Nusra Front, but this did not end US armament or dependence on the Kurds. The move was accepted by the Russians, who do not see the PYD as an enemy of the Syrian regime, which further bolstered the Syrian Kurds’ situation.
Russia and Iran preceded the US in supporting the Kurds, letting them expand beyond their zones on the Syria-Turkey border under the pretext of driving terrorists out. Turkey was very concerned by the move, which is perceived as a conspiracy to set up opposition Kurdish zones on its border that directly threaten its security. Iran and Russia have managed to endanger Turkish security, resulting in Ankara decreasing support to the Syrian opposition. Iran, which aims to be the key regional power, seeks to protect the Syrian regime and weaken Turkey. This is a natural outcome of Iran’s expansion in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
Though the Iranian axis game is clear, US backing of the Kurds was ambiguous, as it posed dangers to NATO ally Turkey. Now that Donald Trump’s administration has replaced Barack Obama’s, there is hope that this change will include management of the Syrian crisis, especially after Trump pledged to reverse Obama’s stances. It is too early to know the new ideas and steps, but Western and Russian support of the Kurds continues as Daesh and Al-Nusra threats grow.
The picture has become clearer to Turkey: Iran, which aims to be the key regional power, seeks to protect the Syrian regime and weaken Turkey. This is a natural outcome of Iran’s expansion in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, which requires neutralizing Ankara. Iran is trying to increase its leverage in the region in order to impose itself on the Trump administration, which considers Iran an adversary, not a partner, unlike Obama’s administration.
Turkey made several mistakes in handling the Syrian crisis since the peaceful uprising turned into an armed conflict. Among them were Turkey’s failure to intervene militarily in Syrian areas under its influence; to pressure the regime for a political settlement with the opposition at the start of the conflict; to deter extremist Islamist opposition factions; and lingering over cooperating with governments that had complained of using the Turkish territories by their citizens to sneak into Syria and join terrorist organizations as new recruits. Then, it was expected that the international community would be concerned and fight any rising extremist Islamist groups.
Turkey is attempting to heal several wounds simultaneously. It insists on hunting the ghost followers of Fethullah Gulen’s organization worldwide. It is involved in a war on terror against organizations such as Daesh in Turkey as well as in Iraq and Syria. At the same time, it is trying to persuade the West to stop backing Syrian-Kurdish groups, and reach pragmatic solutions with Russia and Iran in Syria.
Ankara’s options are narrowing. Iran’s victory in Syria will be at Turkey’s expense, and will present it with endless worries because Syria has been a center for attacks against the Americans since they invaded Iraq, as Syria hosted Al-Qaeda and the “Iraqi resistance.” However, Turkey remains a major regional power with vast military capabilities that qualify it to be a decisive player, an advantage it declined to capitalize on throughout the Syrian crisis, but cannot now use with Russia’s presence as the balance of power is no longer in its favor.
All parties are now anticipating America’s future steps: Will it be biased toward the Syrian regime and end the conflict in its favor? Will it impose intra-Syrian reconciliation to keep balance between all parties? Or will more fuel be added to the fire to keep the war going?
—The writer is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published. Courtesy: Arab News