Syria’s Moderate Dealing with Possible Turkish Operation in the North
Story Code : 1027616
Despite international efforts to prevent Turkish military operation against Kurdish groups in northern Syria, Ankara leaders have decided to launch this operation soon.
Turkey claims that Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and People's Protection Units (YPG) threaten the security of its borders and will continue its operations until the complete elimination of these groups. In addition to the fact that Russia and the US are strongly opposed to a new round of Turkish operations, the biggest side of the conflict is the Syrian government, with which Turkey is not willing to negotiate on the expected campaign. Damascus officials have repeatedly said that any military action without the permission of Syria is a violation of the territorial sovereignty of the country and they condemn it. However, the Syrian government has avoided taking a strong position in the past days, which makes it hard to understand Damascus approach about any new Turkish operation amid Ankara's expression of interest in a rapprochement with the Syrian government.
Erdogan's dual-faced policy
The news of operation starting soon come as recently, Erdogan and other Turkish officials said they are ready to normalize ties with Syria after a decade-long diplomatic hiatus. Reports also talked about intelligence officials’ meeting to prepare the ground for upper-level meetings by diplomats.
Despite these interactions, Erdogan has proven he follows no principles in his foreign policy and his decisions are interest-driven. In recent days, Erdogan said that he does not see a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad unlikely and that the meeting will probably take place in Russia before the Turkish presidential elections. At the same time, he is planning a ground operation in northern Syria and said that he does not accept any specific schedule for the end of the occupation of Syrian territory by his forces, and he is not even willing to consult with the Syrian government about the operation in the coming days.
Turkey's operation can disrupt a possible normalization process between the two countries and prolong this diplomatic project. Considering Turkey's decade of war-mongering, the Syrian officials do not trust the erratic positions of the Ankara leaders, and for this reason, they have not taken a fundamental step in this direction and have put forward conditions to make sure how serious Ankara is in its decision. President Bashar al-Assad of Syria recently pointed in a speech to the resumption of relations with Turkey, saying that the meetings with Ankara are now only of an intelligence nature, but they will lead to an increase in the level of the diplomatic meetings. According to al-Assad, Turkey has expressed its readiness to meet the demands of Damascus and the Syrians expect practical steps from Turkey and not just utter words.
Withdrawing forces from Syrian territory, stopping support for terrorist groups, and helping the Syrian government regain control of Idlib are among the main demands of Damascus to restore relations with Ankara, which the Erdogan government has implicitly agreed to, but ground operations are not what Syria was expecting.
Turkey had carried out artillery and airstrikes on the positions of the Kurdish groups in northern Syria in the past weeks, killing tens of Kurdish militants, according to Defense Ministry. Syria's Raqqa and Hasakah provinces have mainly been under Turkish fire. On Sunday, too, a number of new Turkish reinforcements, including tanks and artillery, were deployed to the border with Syria which show an intention for an imminent incursion into Syria.
Silence along with taking military formation
Although the Syrian government is resolutely opposed to the expected Turkish campaign in the north, it has not taken an official stance so far. Some suggest that Damascus silence is because of behind-the-scenes agreements made with Turkey to eliminate terrorist groups. However, moves by the Syrian army prove the opposite.
Damascus, which with difficulty re-established relative security in the country, is not interested to experience a new crisis, and therefore, in order to show that it is in a superior position compared to the past, and confronts any aggression, in recent days, it sent its forces to Kurdish-majority regions. This action of the army is a kind of warning to Turkey that if the operation starts, it may support the Kurdish groups and this issue can increase Ankara's costs. Kurdish leaders have said recently that they will open the gates of the north to the central government and welcome army for military cooperation.
When in June Turkish attacks were stepped up sharply, Syrian government sent thousands of its forces to the northern regions and even made agreements with the Kurdish leaders for defense against common threats. This cooperation is still in place. The cooperation of the central government and the Kurds will be disastrous for Turkey and will make it more difficult to succeed in military operations. Erdogan understands well the fact that the existence of a stable government in Syria will increase the security of Turkey's borders and there is no need for occasional raids, so he is trying not to alienate Damascus.
Even though Syria knows very well that Ankara's leaders do not have a serious will to normalize relations at present, it does not want to take a position that unravels the little efforts to resume relations. In recent months, as a show of goodwill, Turkey has closed the offices of the Syrian opposition in the country and scaled down its support for the terrorists in Idlib, where the Takfiris have attacked areas controlled by Turkish-backed forces to vent their anger with Turkish U-turn. Turkey's distancing from Idlib terrorists is considered a victory for Damascus because with the reduction of foreign support, the terrorists will be in a position of weakness, and the resistance forces affiliated with Syria can eliminate them with a lightening operation and finish them off.
Russian mediation prevents confrontation
The Syrian government works on defusing the tensions in various ways to manage the future developments. To this end, a Russian delegation visited the Kurdish-majority regions and met with Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) commanders. Reports said that the commander of the Russian forces in Syria Alexander Chaiko proposed that the Kurds retreat fully from the borders with Turkey and be replaced by Syrian army forces in return for cancellation of the Turkish operation. SDF rejected the offer, reports said. Local sources said that in the meeting, the two sides discussed possible Turkish offensive and ways to prevent it from taking place.
Since Turkey says its reason for the military operation is to push away the Kurdish militants from its borders, Damascus wants to deploy its forces to the borders to take the excuse from Ankara for the offensive. Syrian military presence on the border serves as a preventive move because Turkey would avoid a clash with Syria and its allies and stop at air and artillery attacks. Direct clash with Syrian army can undo Erdogan's efforts for a rapprochement. This puts the president in a difficult dilemma.
Abdel Bari Atwan, a prominent Arab political analyst, believes that the Syrian leaders may capitalize on Erdogan's weakness and his need for Damascus as the elections are nearing and wrest big concessions from him including withdrawal of all of the Turkish forces from Syrian territory and end of Ankara's support for Idlib-based terrorists. The Arab analyst also predicted that Damascus could wait to see who emerges winner from Turkish elections, as it knows that the Turkish opposition wants Turkey out of Syria and return of all Syrian refugees home.
Therefore, a Turkey's ground operation could deal a major blow to Erdogan in the election if prolonged, giving the opposition a leg up to end Erdogan's two-decade rule at a time when the Turks are bearing the brunt of a biting economic crisis.