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Cyprus scenario least desirable for Erdogan 20 octobre 2012

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.
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Gulf News (UAE) October 20, 2012, p. D5
In Focus: In Search of the Right Game Plan

Soner Cagaptay *

Staging a limited invasion to contain the crisis, like it did in the 1970s, may notwork as the cost of intervention in Syria will be high now.

Turkey was the first country to take directmilitary action against the government of Bashar Al Assad since Syria’s uprising began in the spring of 2011. And tensions are escalating. Lastweek, the Turkish government sent 25 F-16 fighters to an air base near the border with Syria and last Wednesday it forced a Syrian passenger plane to land in the Turkish capital, Ankara, where suspected military aid shipments were taken off the plane.

The shelling along the Turkish-Syrian border is a critical development. The Al Assad regime is already busy fighting the Free Syrian Army (FSA) near the Turkish border, where it has been bombing towns and villages. Precision artillery-targeting is difficult and the Syrian military is not known for its accuracy. What’s more, many rebel-held areas lie right next to the Turkish border. Hence even if the Syrians try not to shell Turkish territory, they are quite likely to cause inadvertent damage, potentially killing Turkish citizens. As long as Syrian shells continue to fall on Turkish territory, Turkey will respond in kind. As Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “Although Turkey does not want war, it is close to war.” If the situation continues to escalate, Turkey’s history suggests that it is likely to followoneof three paths: Continued low-intensity shelling, cross-border strikes or an actual invasion.

The first response for Ankara would be to continue the current pattern of shelling the border every time Syria targets Turkey. Thiswill weaken Syrian forces in some areas near the Turkish border, letting the FSA fill the vacuum. This will not create a contiguous safe haven, but would lead to pockets of FSA-held territory inside Syria under a de facto Turkish umbrella.

The second would combine shelling with cross-border raids to target Kurdish militants in Syria. Turkey’s policy, after all, is not just about Syria. It also depends on the Kurdistan Workers Party, known as PKK., and its Syrian affiliate, the Party for Democratic Unity (PYD). Turkey views PKK as an existential threat and PYD is reportedlyalreadyactive inSyriantowns near the Turkish border. If Turkey believes that Kurdish militants are turning Syria into a staging ground for operations against Turkey, the Turkish military would strike decisively, as it did against the Kurds in northern Iraq after Saddam Hussain’s rule effectively ended there in the 1990s. Ankara might go for the “northern Iraq option” once again to prevent Kurdish militants fromtaking control of northern Syria.

Finally, if things get worse along the border, causingmore Turkish casualties, Turkey may go even further, staging a limited invasion to contain the crisis as it did in Cyprus in the 1970s. At that time, Ankara waited patiently for the US and the international community to come to its aid in Cyprus. When such help did notmaterialise, Turkey took matters into its own hands and landed troops on the island.

Nato has already issued a statement that it will defend Turkey against Syria. Yet, if Turkey decides that the international community is not going to actually help stave off the Al Assad regime’s aggression, it may choose the Cyprus option. The Turkish President, Abdullah Gul, has suggested that Ankara may be getting closer to its threshold, declaring on October 8 that “worse-case scenarios” are looming in Syria, calling upon the international community to act. The Cyprus scenario is the least desirable for Turkey. Full-scale war is not in its interest, especially if Turkey launches it without American backing. And Nato support under Article 5 of the alliance’s charter, which calls for all Nato members to come to the defence of any member that is attacked, would be harder tomuster. Moreover, European nations like France have not, in the past, been keen to come to Turkey’s defence. A unilateral war against the Al Assad regimewill also irritate the US and anger Russia and Iran, Ankara’s rivals in Syria.

The northern Iraq option will not necessarily raise America’s ire, but it will expose Turkey to further PKK. attacks, including the ones backed by Iran. Tehran already appears to be encouraging the PKK to punish Turkey for its stance on Syria. Major attacks could hurt Turkey’s economy and erode Erdogan’s popularity.

This leaves Turkey with the status quo — retaliating to Syrian artillery fire by shelling across the border. Yet, this will not solve the Syrian crisis. Only an effective arms embargo and a multilateral intervention to create safe havens for civilians will stop the slaughter.

The cost of intervention in Syria may be high now, but the price will only increase for all nations if civilianmassacres continue unabated. Currently, Syria looks eerily similar to Bosnia in the early 1990s. When the world did not act to end the slaughter of Muslims there, moved in to join the fight and they sought to convince the otherwise staunchly secular-minded Bosnian Muslims that the world had abandoned them and that they were better off with In Bosnia, the international community intervened before it was too late. If Syria radicalises, becoming a safe haven, it could become a Sisyphean task to normalise it. Afghanistan is a case in point.

* Soner Cagaptay is a fellow and the director of the Turkish Research Programme at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

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