The Syrian crisis is full of surprises. Big nations of the world and the region actively interfere with the situation in that country. Truth be told, today Syria resembles a quagmire. This country has turned into a battleground where interests of the West, led by the U.S., and Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia collide. Yet no concrete results are visible; armed clashes are not subsiding and rampant terrorism continues to threaten other regions in the vicinity. Meanwhile, the Turkish Special Forces have started to render substantial assistance to the Free Syrian Army in the north of the country. Strategic town of Jerablus has already been cleared of terrorists. Ankara stated that the process would continue until ISIS and PYD were completely eliminated in the region. It is fascinating that the big players do not demonstrate fierce opposition to Turkey’s actions. Even the U.S., France and Germany voiced their support to Turkey. Nevertheless, the experts warn that putting boots on the ground in Syria is a risky venture. What could be the outcome of the process?
Euphrates Shield: Ankara Launched Special Operation
Thanks to the support by the Turkish Special Forces the Free Syrian Army is already conducting a clean-up operation in the town of Jerablus, which is 20-30 kilometers away from the international border between the two countries, and is busy restoring some government institutions there. Turkey’s operation was dubbed Euphrates Shield. It has both military and geopolitical content because the objective is to defend the Western bank of Euphrates River and secure Turkey’s interests in that geography.
This event has captured the international media’s attention. Experts evaluate extensively the geopolitical aspect of this issue. Evidently, the big powers are well-disposed towards the deployment of Turkish troops in Syria. According to the Russian media, Ankara provided the U.S., Russia and Iran with necessary information regarding the planned operation and even identified a timeframe for it – 15 days (see: Антон Подковенко. Турция заранее оповестила Россию, США и Иран о вторжении в Сирию / “Vesti.ru”, 24 August 2016).
Russian author argues that, “In any event, we are witnessing a changing Turkish foreign policy. Ankara is searching for new points of convergence between Moscow and Washington. Perhaps, as the operation in Jerablus progresses, the outlines of a new balance of forces in the resolution of the Syrian crisis would emerge (see: previous reference). The Western experts share that view. Apparently, Turkey conveyed clearly the message regarding the substance and motives of the offensive to the appropriate circles. Statements coming from America, Russia, France, Germany and Iran attest to the accuracy of such an assumption. Turkey seems to be utilizing the most advanced military and information warfare tactics. This is an extremely important aspect.
Observes emphasize the fact that attack on Jerablus coincided with the date of Vice-President Biden’s visit to Turkey. After his meetings with the country’s President and the Prime Minister the top U.S. official offered an apology for a belated visit to Turkey. He went on to state that Washington was Turkey’s closest friend. In an interview with several television channels the country’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that the very statement was backed by concrete facts (see: Başbakan Yıldırım Habertürk, Show Tv, Bloomberg HT ortak yayınında konuştu / “Habertürk”, 24 August 2016).
Moreover, Washington provided assurances that radical Kurdish factions would withdraw to the eastern bank of the Euphrates River. One day later, in a telephone conversation with Turkish Foreign Minister Movlud Cavushoglu, John Kerry announced that PYD-YPG forces had already fallen back (see: Kerry: PYD Fırat’ın doğusuna çekiliyor / “Habertürk”, 25 August 2016). The accuracy of such a statement would be verifiable in a couple of days.
Onset of Grand Fight: Prospects of Victory
In any case, there is an impression that Washington started to show greater sensitivity towards Turkey. There is acknowledgment of its serious role in ensuring the security of the West. Its expulsion from NATO is inconceivable. The EU member nations have seemingly stepped up their support to Ankara. Paris has welcomed the Jerablus intervention. Berlin described the offensive as Turkey’s natural right. Although Russia was not too enthusiastic about it, no objections were made. Kremlin’s comments were limited to the desire of seeing the peaceful handling of the process. However, due to the Bashar Assad factor Russia expressed its general concern.
In the meantime the reaction by the official Damascus was the most anticipated one. Assad’s government denounced Turkey’s actions and called them an occupation of the Syrian territory. Yet, for the time being Syria has special forces of several countries deployed on its soil, and this means that boundaries between the occupation and sovereignty are blurred. It would certainly require greater degree of stability to clarify the situation. Another aspect has to do with the actual occupation of the northern part of Syria by the Kurdish militia. Perhaps, this is the reason why the U.S. and even the leaders of the Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region are not rushing to condemn Turkey and even expressed their solidarity with Ankara in fighting the international terrorism.
This is a proof of yet another change in the geopolitical landscape in the Middle East. Namely, Turkey is being assertive in ensuring its national security and demonstrates its readiness to take bold steps. However, let us not forget different aspects of the problem. Indeed, Syria is a quagmire. Anyone who steps in there needs to have an escape plan. The U.S. is still stuck in Syria. France is paying a price of putting boots on the ground there. The countries of Europe are helpless in the face of migration problem engendered by the Syrian crisis. Iran opted to deploy its best troops there but continues to sustain significant losses.
Furthermore, the likes of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Lebanon and others found themselves in a limbo there. Turkey’s recent actions appear risky against such a background. Yet Turkey’s situation is different from the rest because radical factions operating in Syria perpetrate acts of terrorism on the Turkish soil. They frequently cross the border and cause bloodshed in different parts of the country. Thus, they pose threat not only to Syria but Turkey as well.
One of such groups that openly threaten Turkey is PKK’s Syria wing known as PYD. As Turkish Defense Minister puts it, the PYD behaved like “rascal neighborhood kid” (see: Fikri Işık’tan Cerablus açıklaması: PYD ve DAEŞ akıllı olurlarsa çatışmadan çekilir giderler / “Habertürk”, 25 August 2016). That being said, it is difficult to make concrete prediction regarding the possible outcome of Turkey’s military intervention in Syria. Because foreign stakeholders would be happy to see that Ankara succumbs to the flames of the Syrian conflict. Certain quarters could devise plans to make sure that the Turkish military gets trapped in the Syrian quicksand, with the ultimate aim of puling Turkey into an all out war.
Those are scenarios that must be taken into account. Nonetheless, Turkey was compelled to take that step, given the strategic and geopolitical significance of the matter. Presumably, Turkey will withdraw from the area once the identified problem is eliminated. Still, the Turkish soldiers wrote another history by liberating the town of Jerablus in the just eight hours, sending a warning to PYD. The fact that the big powers have shown understanding demonstrates that Ankara would find no serious obstacles ahead of itself. Experts are confident that Turkey is capable of combating both PKK and ISIS at the same time. Indeed, the Jerablus operation once again demonstrated Turkey’s military prowess.