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Turkey

Is Turkey Getting Ready To Invade Syria?

President Erdogan is raising the tone about a "buffer zone" needed along the Turkish-Syrian border to halt a supposed Kurdish push for independence.

A Turkish military parade in Istanbul on Oct. 29, 2014.
A Turkish military parade in Istanbul on Oct. 29, 2014.
Fehim Tastekin

-Analysis-

ISTANBUL — Turkey has been debating plans about a possible military intervention day and night since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the following declaration last week: "We will never allow the establishment of a state in Syria's north and our south."

It seems that Erdogan, who has not been able to satisfy his desires about Syria, made a deal with his Arabic friends and now needs an excuse. The Kurds are that excuse. An intervention plan is based on the conspiracy theory that the United States is forming a "Kurdish belt" from northern Iraq to northern Syria.

When Erdogan was in Riyadh in March to help establish a Sunni alliance against Iran with the new Saudi King Salman, they agreed on backing the Syrian rebel groups in a way which will actually produce results. The armed groups were reorganized for this goal. The Army of Conquest was supplied with weapons from north via Turkey, while the Southern Front was supplied across the border in Jordan.

Idlib and Jisr al-Shughur fell as a result of the Turkish-Saudi partnership. According to Arabic sources, the joint plan includes Turkey entering Syria with land forces and forming a buffer zone. However, this plan is crumbling since the last general election eliminated hopes that Erdogan's leading Justice and Development Party's (AKP) could win outright Parliament control.

Whatever may be the frame of the deal with the Saudis, Erdogan seems to be in a hurry to keep his promise. Since it will not be possible to maintain the current Syrian policy with a possible coalition government, Erdogan is set to drag Turkey into a military adventure in this transitory period.

Fabricated fears

Of course, an intervention to Syria will be presented to the domestic population as a way to prevent the forming of a Kurdish state, and to the international community as a war against the Islamic State (ISIS).

According to the pro-AKP daily Yeni Safak, 18,000 soldiers will enter 28 to 33 kilometers into Syria from Karkamis and Oncupinar to form a 110-kilometer-long buffer zone.

But Deniz Zeyrek from the daily Hurriyet wrote cautions that Turkish soldiers "entering Syria is out of the question." He says the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) are reluctant to support the Syrian opposition who fight ISIS and the Assad regime, though he doesn't rule out Turkey shelling or air bombing the ISIS fronts or logistical support for the opposition.

The intervention justifications served to the media are all fabrications: that Kurds are practicing ethnic cleansing on Arabs and Turkmens, that a Kurdish corridor is being opened which causes a threat to Turkey, that ISIS has lost Tal Abyad and is advancing to the west with Assad's support.

No, in fact, the only thread of reality can be found in the last of these explanations: if ISIS takes the border gates of Selama and Heva, the latest Turkish-Saudi "revolution" project would fall apart. In this case the pro Al-Qaeda Nusra Front, the formerly pro-Al-Qaeda Ahrar and other jihadist groups cannot receive support.

The ethnic cleansing accusations started before the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and their non-Kurdish allies recaptured Tal Abyad. This war, of which Turkey is a key actor, have caused widespread displacements of virtually every ethnic group.

Indeed, the Kurdish controlled canton Rojava is an antidote to ethnic cleansing, and a potential model of coexistence for ethnic, religious and sectarian groups. Can this be the fact that scares Turkey's rulers? The Kurds have not declared independence from Syria and they do not have such a goal.

Birth of ISIS

The Kurds are fighting to save their lands, homes, women and children from a vile terrorist organization. If Turkey had an intention to fight ISIS, a hand of friendship should have been reached to Rojava. But instead, Kurds have faced many attacks from armed forces entering Syria from Turkey as soon as they took control of the area.

Another Turkish claim that has been repeated tirelessly as a part of this so-called conspiracy is that Assad supports ISIS. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet DavutoÄŸlu has claimed that the regime and ISIS have met at Haseke; and the regime forces have moved out of two zones, which allowed ISIS to advance. The field intelligence of Turkey is terribly wrong and highly manipulative. It has been like this from the beginning. These were the intelligence services that believed Damascus would fall in two weeks when the civil war started. This was the intelligence used to say radical groups like Nusra were founded by Assad.

While the AKP government was organizing the Free Syrian Army, we were warning that pro-Al-Qaeda and jihadist organizations were getting stronger in Syria. The Turkish leaders were also the ones claiming that it was Assad who have released the jihadists from prisons to derail the revolution. But wouldn't you know, those released from prisons are currently leading the organizations that Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia support against Assad.

Fire from four directions

If Turkey does decide to enter Syria to form a buffer zone; it will face fire from four distinct angles. First, you are entering the land of a sovereign country; this is invasion. There are those who disagree by saying that Syria cannot control this area anyway. Let Turkey close its borders to fighters and weapons transported into Syria and stop firing upon the Syrian Army when they get close to the border. Then we can see who can control what land. The buffer zone will pit the Turkish and Syrian armies against each other no matter what happens.

Second, if the buffer zone will include Cerablus, currently under ISIS control, then ISIS will start to target Turkey directly. And remember, this is not a conventional war where the clashes are limited to the front lines.

The buffer zone also means war with the Kurds if it will target the areas under YPG control. This war could also set aflame major Turkish cities. The peace process with the Kurds would be nonexistent. Why would you transform the hundreds of kilometers of peaceful border territory to a shooting range?

Who would benefit the most from Turkey's attempt at creating a buffer zone or changing the rules of engagement? The pro-Al-Qaeda and Salafi jihadist groups, of course. Let nobody talk about the Free Syrian Army or moderate opposition anymore. The funeral prayers of the moderates ended long ago.

There is no guarantee that this intervention would not turn Turkey into what Syria has become. Turkey has refused to take responsibility for what their deadly policies have cost Syria for the last four years. But now at least, it must calculate its own possible losses to come. Turkey would lose not only the Syrian Kurds but its own, too. Turkey would also lose its own domestic peace, as terrorism in Syria would become a domestic problem for Turkey.

ErdoÄŸan has lost an election as the "would-be president" if he wants to compensate this as "commander in chief" then this strategy would burn us all. Turkey would never be the same.

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-Analysis-

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