Turkey’s recent strike on Syria was portrayed both in Turkey and in the world as Turkey acting out of its right to defend itself. However, if the Turkish government did not receive international support for the move, and was not pressured domestically, then the question remains why the change in policy. Let me be clear, Turkey has the right to defend itself; however, Syrian mortar fire falling on the Turkish side of the border is far from being an attack on Turkish sovereignty.
Following the Turkish reprisal, the US and the UN, and NATO, publicly supported Turkey, strongly condemning Syria. However, I imagine behind closed doors there was a different reaction. The US paid lip service to Turkey, while the UN still has its hands tied due to Russia’s support of Syria. During the last six months of conflict, Turkey has often reminded NATO that under article 5 an attack on Turkey should be considered an attack on all participating countries. However, NATO just does not see Syria as posing a threat to the Turkish state and perceives the mortar fire as not more than a nuisance. In short, on the diplomatic front this attack has been another letdown. If Turkey keeps up the way it has, it will continue to lose its prestige within the eyes of Europe and the US.
Internally there are those Turkish citizens who supported the reprisal; however, it seems that majority are not interested in heating up tensions between the two countries, and do not wish for their country to get militarily involved in the Syrian quagmire. Furthermore, while Turkish casualties from the Syrian mortar are sad, internal violence and death in Turkey due to the ongoing Kurdish conflict is much more serious. Just this year, almost one hundred Turkish soldiers and police have been killed and the government seems as far as ever from reaching an understanding with the outlawed Kurdish organization, the PKK. It is easy for Turkey to raise its head and invoke some national pride by firing back at Syria, but its real work remains at home.
Therefore, the question remains why did Turkey choose to retaliate against Syria, and even go so far to pass a bill in parliament allowing Turkish troops to cross into foreign countries. In my opinion, the change in Turkish policy emerges due to the realization that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) divisions, which Turkey has been supporting, are losing ground. In other words, Turkey’s strengthening of its border is aimed at boosting up the FSA, who are trapped between the Turkish border and the Syrian army. Without Turkish action the FSA could in some places be pushed back into Turkish territory. Next, after Turkey’s failure at securing UN support for a buffer zone in Syria to house refugees (see previous blog), it seems that the Turkish reprisal is bringing us one step closer to Turkey achieving that goal.
Whether or not my analysis is correct, one point remains clear. From one failed policy to another, Turkey has been acting out of damage control and lacks a clear vision when it comes to Syria. It is for this reason the Turkish reprisal is worrying since this very well could be the opening of the door to greater Turkish military involvement in Syria; not tomorrow, or the next day, but certainly in the next few months.
Perhaps most worrying hitherto is that the FSA divisions Turkey is supporting seem to be an unruly group of radical Islamic factions, who are also wreaking havoc on the Syrian people and lack the vision and spirit of the revolution. Thus, I imagine that many of the pro-democratic anti-Assad forces are also unhappy with the Turkish involvement, leaving Turkey with many more enemies than friends in Syria.