Exploiting any international crisis to realize its goals, Turkey now, like before, is taking advantage of the Ukraine crisis to materialize its long-held dreams in Syria. The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced his new plan in a speech, saying the country would launch another military operation on its southern border with Syria to establish a 30-kilometer safe zone. Turkey has repeatedly called for a safe zone in northern Syria in recent years, but failed to achieve its goal due to opposition from major powers, but now the Ukraine war and the West-Russia confrontation have prompted it to try again. The planned military action is a violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria, which could have irreparable consequences for this country and the region as this scenario provokes other countries to easily violate the sovereignty of their neighbors.
Turkish goals behind safe zone
Turkey considers the Syrian Kurds as part of the PKK terrorist group and finds their rise to power a threat to the security in its southern borders, and carried out several attacks against them over the past years. Therefore, now that the world powers are engaged in the Ukraine crisis, Turkey tries to push back the Syrian Kurds from border by establishing a safe zone and expand its security domain tens of kilometers away from its borders, and since it failed to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, at least create a buffer zone between it and the Syrian government.
On the other hand, by creating a safe zone, Turkey is trying to repatriate millions of Syrian refugees who have been living on its southern borders for a decade, thereby reducing its costs. Turkey wants to change the demographic composition of Syria's north by relocating refugees and subsequently resettling some Turkish people in northern Syria, paving the way for future annexation of the region to its territory.
Erdogan's plan is also related to Turkey's internal affairs, and since the presidential election will be held next year, he seeks to silence the internal opposition by resolving the refugee issue to retain the power. In recent months, the opposition groups have been actively building their attacks over economic problems in order to oust Erdogan.
Grounds necessary for Erdogan's new adventure
Although Turkey has been striving for a safe zone since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, some developments have prompted Ankara to pursue the issue more seriously at present. One of the important issues that has motivated Turkey to move forward with Syria plan is Russia's involvement in Ukraine, and since the Russians have reduced part of their forces in Syria to strengthen their ranks in Ukraine, the Turks are taking advantage of this opportunity and try to occupy Syrian territory without disturbance from Russia. Turkey has been conservative in implementing its plans in Syria due to agreements reached with Russia under Astana peace process, but as Putin's maneuvering power has waned, Erdogan has abandoned his conservative approach to make his decade-long dream a reality.
Additionally, Ankara is using the Western need for its support to push Russia to the wall in Ukraine to wrest privileges from Washington as the latter is pushing for unity of all NATO members. Despite the warning, Washington seems to have already given Erdogan a leeway for his expected northern Syria operation. In recent weeks, Erdogan has opposed the membership of Finland and Sweden in NATO, which is crucial for the alliance, and seems to have taken advantage of the controversy. He accused Finland and Sweden of supporting the PKK and called on them to end their support for the group, blacklisted as a terrorist organization in Turkey. Turkey has demanded the Europeans to put the PKK on their terror blacklist.
The American green light to Turkey in Syria shows that Washington officials pursue a policy of "present interests a priority" and since Ukraine is now vital for them, Washington needs Turkey as a NATO ally, and for this reason it has made concessions to Ankara despite some considerations. By doing so, the US once again betrayed its Syrian Kurdish allies who have been acting as its infantry since 2014.
Another important point about the new Turkish occupational plan is the secret support of the leaders of the Iraqi Kurdish region for Ankara. At loggerheads with the Syrian Kurds, the Iraqi Kurds provided intelligence to the Turkish campaign against PKK fighters in northern Iraq in recent months.
The new Turkish ambitions have aroused the ire of the Syrian officials. Reacting to Ankara's plans, the Syrian foreign ministry said that the Turkish leader's "silly remarks" about establishing a safe zone in northern Syria are a hostile game that Ankara is playing against Syria and its territorial integrity. The plan to divide Syria is a plan that is only in line with the goals of the Israeli regime, the US, and the West, the statement further said. It continued that the purpose of creating such areas is not to protect the border areas between Syria and Turkey at all, but mainly to "colonize" and create a center which basically helps to carry out terrorist attacks against the Syrian people. The Syrian government has strongly insisted on rejecting the Turkish excuses and called on the countries that finance and prompt such criminal actions to "immediately end their support to such devil schemes."
The Turkish occupation plan will certainly not go unanswered and the Syrian army will fight against these aggression. Damascus has repeatedly stated that the presence of Turkey and the US in northern Syria is a "clear example of occupation" and targets the country's territorial integrity, with the aim of plundering its resources and partitioning it.
Strong-toned reactions by the Syrian government and Washington-supported Kurds to the new Turkish policy herald tensions and upset the Syrian calm that followed the obliteration of ISIS terrorist group in 2017. Moreover, though the Kurds' relations with the central government are challenged, odds are the two join their forces, at least for a short time, and force back the Turkish forces from their soil.
The new Turkish scenario shows that Ankara leaders have not learned from the past. The military action plan is set while a decade of fruitless war in Syria only fed a sectarian conflict and if it is implemented, it would sow hostility in the region with its consequences transcending Syria and Turkey to encompass the whole region.