6 October 2012, 15:10

Syria and Turkey on the brink of war

Syria and Turkey on the brink of war
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This week’s conflict in Syria has put that country on the brink of a full-scale military confrontation with Turkey. On Wednesday's night, a shell launched from Syria went off on Turkish territory killing 5 people. Such incidents are becoming more frequent. In response, Turkey opened fire on Syrian territory.

The UN Security Council condemned the situation and Damascus apologized. Nevertheless, at a closed session, the Turkish Parliament sanctioned carrying out any military operations on neighbouring territory.

The next clash on the Syrian-Turkish border occurred on Saturday morning. A mortar shell launched from Syria landed on the Turkish side. In response, the Turkish military opened fire. They also had to shoot back on Friday. These events are raising special attention due to the tragic incident on Wednesday when the Syrian army fired at an area in the south-east of Turkey killing five people and injuring from 9 to 13, according to different sources. There was no end to Ankara’s indignation. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded that Turkey’s NATO allies should express their attitude to the situation.

“Turkey wants peace in the region and not war. We know the lamentable consequences of wars. However, Turkey is capable of defending its citizens and the integrity of its borders, so I would not recommend anyone to test our strength. The Syrian government declared that the Wednesday incident was a tragic mistake but the same happened in a different place this morning. What sort of mistakes happen on a regular basis? I am urging all our allies to pay attention to this situation.”

The international response to the developments was reserved but had a definite anti-Syrian flavour. The UN Security Council condemned the Syrian army for shelling Turkish territory and demanded that Damascus should stop violating the international law and should respect its neighbours’ sovereignty. The declaration of the NATO Council was also rather vague, stating that the alliance fully supported Turkey and demanded that Syria should immediately stop any aggressive activities against Ankara. Due to no clear-cut support from its allies, Turkey has started preparations for a war on its own. The country’s parliament has granted the government a year’s mandate for carrying out trans-border military operations. Azhdar Kurtov, expert of the Institute of Strategic Estimates comments:

“Declarations made by the Turkish leadership speak for themselves. This is not just militant rhetoric but an order to the armed forces, in case of an emergency, to cross the border and carry out military activities on Syrian territory. What is this if not a war? Though, certainly, Turkish commanders and politicians will think twice before starting an invasion. In my opinion, they will carry out a massive probing, just like towards another neighbouring country, Iraq. The Turkish armed forces supported by their air force are quite capable of carrying out local hostilities on Syrian territory.”

Damascus seems to be very well aware of the danger. It quickly apologized, expressed condolences and promised to avoid such accidents in the future. Still, it is becoming more and more difficult to do this. Separatists in the areas near the border are becoming more active. In addition, experts fear provocations from militants who could shell Turkish territory to give rise to a war. At present, neither Ankara nor NATO are prepared to start hostilities, Gumer Isayev, analyst from the Centre for Studying Today’s Middle East believes.

"The aggravation of relations between those two countries is a thin line, crossing which could turn the internal Syrian conflict into an international one. We could expect this long ago, there have been some other incidents. At that time, there were also forecasts that this could be a reason for a conflict. Still, even today Turkey and NATO are not prepared for a full-scale interference in the conflict.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry has announced that it hopes for a dialogue between Turkey and Syria in order to sort out the border accident. Moscow is sparing no effort in trying to lower tension in the region. Both Ankara and NATO understand the danger of a war against Damascus. The absence of a UN mandate is only part of the problem. The Syrian army is strong, well-trained and well-armed. A foreign intervention would inevitably result in strengthening Bashar al-Assad’s position. But the main problem is that Turkey is risking to find itself between two fronts, expert of the Institute of the Middle East Sergey Seryogichev says.

"Turkey is held back by the absence of an open and official support from the US and other key NATO countries. Turks also fear that if they started an aggression it could aggravate the problem with Kurds. The Syrian authorities would help Kurds with weapons, so as to open a second front against Turkey. In case of Turkish intervention, the Syrian government could take advantage of the situation to consolidate great masses of the population under its leadership. Part of the secular opposition would have to join the wide front of the national Syrian forces to defend the country’s sovereignty, thus supporting the al-Assad regime. All rebels on Syrian territory would be considered dangerous enemies and cities and villages would defend themselves even more fiercely than now.”

This week, radical fighters against Bashar al-Assad’s regime made themselves conspicuous again. A series of explosions occurred in the centre of Aleppo killing at least 40 people and injuring 90. Both servicemen and civilians were among the victims.

Turkish military again fires on Syria

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