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Turkey’s Best Option in Syria: Eat Crow, Withdraw and Stop Spouting Nonsense

February 29, 2020

They Syrian Army liberating regions west of Aleppo and in Idlib Province

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Postscript on March 1.. Turkish military confrontation, its defense of al Qaeda elements in Idlib has intensified over the past 48 hours. In the end, it only results in Turkey digging the hole it is in, in Idlib Province, Syria, that much deeper. I’m not much on predictions but… Turkey will lose big time in Syria. It is on the wrong side, its goals are predatory, its rhetoric increasingly shrill, its actions unconscionable and its overall political approach completely cynical and reactionary. 

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“My country is fighting terrorism on its soil. Idlib is Syrian land, not Turkish territory, nor a piece of land belonging to NATO. Idlib is not located in Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, or California but in Syria. My country is fighting terrorism on its soil and not on any other nation’s territory. It is determined to confront, by all legitimate means, Turkish aggression in support of terrorism, to protect its people, to defend Syria’s land and people, and to adhere to its sovereignty and its independent national decision.”

– Bashar Jaafari. Permanent Representative of Syria to the United Nations –

“Terrorism is an underlying factor” in the nine-year Syrian conflict and “eradicating the forces of terror is a necessary requirement for the restoration of peace and stability in Syria and the region.”
 
Terrorists “should be resolutely crushed, and safe havens established by terrorist forces in Syria should be liquidated,” he said. “At the same time, counter-terrorism operations should be cautious not to harm civilians.”

– China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun speaking at the U.N. Security Council – February 28, 2020

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Time for Tayyip Erdogan and Turkey to eat crow over its Syria policy. The burning question is are they willing to do so, to cut their losses, leave Syria, give up any neo-Ottoman goal of annexing Idlib Province, address the refugee problem that it has done so much to create in the first place and realize the Washington based project to partition Syria has collapsed. It has no future.

Can Turkey do it? Sure it can! Will it do it? Hmmm, at the moment the odds are against. But then there are always choices: dig the hole it is in deeper, or face reality and find ways to climb out of it. Turkey is a wonderful country in spite of its current leadership…Stay tuned.

Turkey is in a quandary of its own making in Syria. It’s objectives are obvious to anyone willing to look honestly at the situation: the Erdogan government not just hoped – but intended – to use the current crisis in Syria’s northwest Idlib Province as a pre-text to annex the province at first de facto, later, almost certainly, de jure.

As a foreign policy expert and former colleague (naturally extremely shy he prefers to remain anonymous) aptly put it:

Let’s face it: this is a crisis purely of Erdogan’s making. He broke off talks and then went to war against the Kurds to win an election a few years back; then became a sponsor of the anti- Assad Syrians and foreign mercenary elements, creating a refugee crisis inside Turkey and on the Syrian border. He now has an economic crisis on his hands and, to try to deflect domestic public opinion, becomes an adventurer abroad to recreate the Ottoman Empire. Plus he’s a cruel autocrat. On the other hand he’s a counter to the Saudis which pleases Washington.

Encouraged by Washington, under the pretext of a thinly veiled humanitarian crisis – which it, in many ways,  has intensified, Turkey is defending and protecting the Islamic terrorists and mercenaries (al Nusra Front and the like) it is supposed to be helping Syria flush out. The military campaign of the Syrian government of the past few months to neutralize the terrorist-mercenary threat to Aleppo, to clear Syria’s two northern major highways M-4, M-5, has blown Turkish expansionist plans for Syria out of the water.

Syrian troops continue to reclaim larger and larger chunks of their country, occupied by Turkey and its mercenary allies. This should be world-wide cause for celebration. Unable to defend Turkey’s alliance with al Qaeda and like mercenary groups in Idlib Province, still the Trump Administration and their ilk have magnified the humanitarian crisis  as the fighting intensifies in this northwest corner of Syria.

Although it is huffing and puffing, threatening war not just with Syria but with Russia as well, Erdogan’s Turkey’s options in Syria are actually quite limited. Indeed it is up against a wall, deep in a hole of its own making. A Turkish government spokesperson bragged of how Turkey had fought Russia in past centuries

Its hopes of involving NATO militarily in Syria have been stymied by a Greek veto of even issuing a formal statement. Although Washington will encourage Turkey to continue to provoke chaos in Idlib Province, there is at present no indication – none – that the United States is prepared for a major military escalation of its presence in Syria. Like NATO, it expressions of “solidarity” are essentially toothless.

Without such backing – and given the Syrian government’s determination to reunify the territory within its borders with strong if not hardening Russian support, all this Turkish bluster – combined with outright lies about how well its military campaign is going in Idlib – Turkey has no options but to swallow its overworked pride, eat crow and admit the obvious:

– Turkey and its assorted jihadists little puppets have no future in Idlib or in Syria. It has lost on that front
– that Turkey is going to have to solve the refugee problem in Idlib that it is largely responsible for having created (and that the international community has magnified for its own political ends). Of course some of the refugees are innocent, but many of them are jihadist terrorists and their families that are mixed in. It is a problem that Turkey created: it is not the responsibility of the Syrian government to resolve it. Their task is to liberate territories occupied by these proxies of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and Israel – and the Syrian government is doing exactly that.

There is simply no way for Turkey to get around the fact that its Syria policy – a part of a larger American plan to partition Syria – is in shambles and that it has few other options other than to face the music that it has no future in Idlib, this no matter how much dark money is flowing into Ankara from the usual suspects.

It never dreamed eight years ago that it would experience major blow back from all the terrorist-mercenary elements it trained, armed, financed and supported, sending them into Syria. It’s neo-Ottoman goal of slicing off Idlib Province as it did the Antioch-Iskenderun region of Syria in 1938 has collapsed. It is losing its foothold in Idlib that would have given Ankara a strong voice in the shape of any eventual complete settlement in Syria.

After facing a severe situation where it looked as if Syria would go the way of Libya and Iraq – ie, the de facto collapse of the country and its partition among a number of countries and movements (Turkey, Israel, Kurds, al Nusra – or whatever they call themselves these days) – with Iranian, Russian and Hezbollah assistance, the Damascus government has turned the situation around over the past four years.

The Sochi Agreement

Large areas of the country in the south, northeast and north of Damascus have been returned to the central authority in Damascus. Only a few pockets remain occupied, the largest by far in Idlib Province in Syria’s northwest, by the border with Turkey. There through a number of cease fire agreements concluded between Turkey, Russia (and earlier on Western powers), mercenary elements defeated in other parts of Syria were given free passage to Idlib, from whence, according to political settlement at Sochi, Turkey (September 2018) was obligated to find ways to organize their total withdrawal from Syria.

According to the Sochi Agreement, Russian and Turkish troops would enforce a new demilitarized zone in Syria’s Idlib Province from which “radical rebels” (ie – foreign mercenaries) would be required to withdraw. While the agreement did give Turkey certain rights and responsibilities to maintain order in Idlib and to control the jihadist-mercenary elements congregating there, it in no way rejected complete Syrian sovereignty over the area. Turkey committed to protecting the civilian population of the province and was given the authority to maintain observation posts within Idlib.

Although the Syrian government did not directly participate in the talks, it supported the results in hopes that it could rationalize the process of the Turkish-mercenary withdrawal.

Not only did the mercenaries remain in Idlib but, again, in violation of the agreement, they continued shelling Aleppo (Haleb in Arabic), constantly reinforced with Turkish arms, intelligence and advisers. They also began setting up their own administrations, imposing their harsh version of Shar’ia law. The demilitarization of the foreign mercenaries that Turkey had committed to, did not take place. The withdrawal of heavy weapons, tanks, rockets’ systems and mortars of all opposition groups, another part of the agreement, never happened either.

Put bluntly, Turkey did not fulfill its part of the Sochi deal, nor does it appear did it ever even consider doing so.

According to one source, part of Turkish president’s calculation on further militarizing the Syrian Idlib region resulted from his belief that the assassination of Iranian Quds Force leader Qassem Suleimani had weakened Iranian (and Russian) influence in the region, including Syria opening the door for a more pronounced Turkish military presence in Syria with weaker opposition.

This was a mistaken political judgement to put it mildly.  All indications are just the opposite. Already in the first days of the Turkish military build up, the Turkish army has suffered casualties with some indications that such casualties are far greater than the numbers suggested publicly.

In any event, there is very little indication that Turkey had any intention of following through on its Sochi commitments.

Instead it used the agreement to buy time, to reorganize the mercenary groups and to encourage them, or at least not discourage them, from engaging in military action – all in violation of the agreement. After waiting for fourteen months to see if Turkey would abide by its part of the agreement, the Syrian government made the decision to wait no longer and to move militarily to neutralize the terrorist threat still alive and well in Idlib Province, thriving with Turkish support. Russia supported the Assad government in its decision to further liberate its territory from mercenary/Turkish occupation.

Enough was enough. The Syrian government took the necessary action.

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