Last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited Damascus to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and to reportedly deliver a letter from Turkish President Abdullah Gul strongly encouraging the Syrian leader to make real changed in both his treatment of the Syrian protesters and in regards to the demands of the Syrian people. Turkish presidential advisor Ersat Hurmuzlu has offered that Syria has 15 days to implement reforms, noting that is Assad fails to do so, he risks losing Turkey’s friendship. This seems to be a last effort by the Turkish government to diplomatically pressure Assad into real and immediate changes on the ground. Interestingly, it has been hinted that Turkey could join an international alliance intervening in Syria to prevent further bloodshed.
There is some debate on this issue though that might stem from Turkey’s willingness to give Assad time to reform before committing to a firmer stance. Haaretz writes:
Arshet Hormozlo, an adviser to the Turkish president, made clear in an interview with the Iraqi newspaper “Zaman” that Turkey will not intervene militarily in Syria and will not allow international forces to enter Syria from Turkish territory.
However, Turkey’s consent to join an international coalition that may launch a military offensive against Syria is a dramatic turning point in Turkey’s stance. Hormozlo’s statement is proof that talks on military involvement have already reached the decision-making stage.
The first paragraph says that Turkey firmly rejects a military intervention while the second suggests that Turkey has accepted the inevitability of intervention and has prepared concrete steps towards that end. Though it is likely that Turkey – a direct neighbor of Syria that is receiving thousands of Syrian refugees – is looking to protect its border, I find it hard to believe that the Turkish government would intervene militarily in Syria. China and Russia have ruled out a UNSC mandated intervention and the intervention in Libya has sapped the US and Europe of any desire (or ability) to effectively intervene in Syria. If there is an intervention, it would be – at most – an independent Turkish move, perhaps supported internationally, to create a security zone that would protect the border and fleeing Syrians. Yet, even that move seems unlikely.
The developments in the Turkish-Syrian relationship are somewhat surprising considering the close alliance that was shared before the protests in Syria began. Close economic and social ties were solidified in recent years as a part on Turkey’s ‘no problems’ foreign policy. On the other hand, this is the first example of unrest on Turkey’s borders that is threatening Turkey (at least economically and in regards to refugees.) That Turkey is moving more strongly against Assad represents a clear shift in Turkey’s quest for regional leadership that was instigated perhaps solely by the proximity of Syria; Ankara, for example, opposed military intervention in Libya. Turkey’s reaction to Syria’s (I presume) inability or unwillingness to enact meaningful reforms and to end the military crackdown will help chart the way in which Turkey is seen throughout the region. A bold move such as military intervention, as unlikely as it is, would signify a Turkish government that is far more willing to dictate policy than the one that has for years defined itself on a more passive, peaceful regional leadership role.
Amusingly, Harretz speculates that a Turkish military move would set off a regional war pitting Shi’a against Sunni, touching the Levant and the Gulf:
In the event that military action is taken against Syria, other fronts may be opened if Iran decides to protect Assad’s rule beyond sending monetary aid and equipment by way of Iraq. In such a scenario, Iran could open a tactical front in the Gulf, send forces to Bahrain or start large-scale military maneuvers in the Gulf.
It is interesting because the authors of the article give no reasoning for speculation that seems out of touch with the rest of the article. That being said, the Iranian regime is a strong supporter of the secular Assad (as a better alternative to the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood that is active in Syria) and could deepen its support for Assad should an international force enter Syria. Yet there is no reason to believe that Iran would send forces to Bahrain. When Shi’a were being put down by the hundreds earlier this year, there was no move of support from Iran.
But let’s play the game. Turkey invades Syria, and Iran retaliates by illogically sending troops to Bahrain. Sunni Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the GCC, respond by moving their forces into Bahrain as well. The resulting open violence between Sunnis and Shi’a open the door for domestic disputes in Iraq and Lebanon, bring these countries to the verge of civil war. Perhaps Israel, seeing that Iran is militarily involved in Bahrain would take the opportunity to preemptively attack Tehran, leading to attacks on Israel from Hezbollah, Hamas and extremist groups in Egypt. Political negotiations completely break down between Israel and the PA and a third Intifada begins in Palestine.
Of course, this is simply speculation that is not grounded in anything. Apparently I could write for Harretz!
Photo from Hackery