Ankara to push for fall of Assad regime at all costs
Worried that the stalemate in the 19-month-long Syrian crisis might take a further toll on Turkish security interests, there is a growing feeling in the Turkish capital that Ankara has no choice but to precipitate the fall of embattled president Bashar al-Assad's regime through any means necessary.

Since the beginning of the crisis, which has dragged on for far longer than any other Arab Spring uprising, and has now evolved into a regional crisis, Turkey has faced serious threats that jeopardize the stability of Turkey in several respects.

Turkey's recent economic growth and progress could be endangered by increased involvement in numerous potentially costly threats ranging from the increasing violence of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to an expanding sectarian war in Syria, and a growing number of Syrian refugees crossing the border and needing assistance.

"The longer the Syrian civil war drags on, the greater the costs and risks to Turkey. It is now clearly in Ankara's interests to accelerate Assad's political demise," David Pollock, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said in remarks to Sunday's Zaman.

Experts agree that Turkey has several legitimate and compelling reasons to want the downfall of Assad's regime in Syria -- and, if possible, to see it replaced with a more peaceful, democratic and friendly neighboring government.

According to Pollock, the first and most obvious concern for Turkey would be ending the slaughter and overall humanitarian catastrophe just across its border. "Second is relief for the substantial and growing Syrian refugee population in Turkey, now well over 100,000, and their safe return home. Third, stopping Assad's cynical use of PKK terrorists as a form of counter-pressure against Turkey, along with sporadic direct military actions against Turkish territory and armed forces," said Pollock.

The threat posed by Syria has grown since a mortar bomb fired by Syria landed in the Turkish border town of Akçakale in Şanlıurfa province on Oct. 3, killing five civilians and injuring several others. Ankara retaliated by hitting Syrian targets, escalating tensions along the border.

The latest spillover of Syrian violence came after Turkish officials revealed on Wednesday that they were in talks with NATO for the possible deployment of Patriot missiles along Turkey's Syrian border as a precautionary measure, a development that could add a new dimension to the 19-month-old Syria crisis.

Patrick Seale, a leading British expert on the Middle East, told Sunday's Zaman that Turkey began to consider the deployment of Patriot missiles due to the cross-border exchanges of fire and other recent provocations.

Turkey's President Abdullah Gül said on Thursday that the country reserved the right to defend itself against any threat from neighboring Syria, amid discussions about the possible deployment of US Patriot missiles.

"I think Turkey is now more convinced than at any other time of US, EU and NATO's unwillingness to effectively help on the Syrian issue," Ali Bakeer, an expert at the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), said in remarks to Sunday's Zaman.

Turkey, a NATO ally, is anxious to avoid going into Syria on its own. It has been pushing for international intervention in the form of creating a safe zone, which would likely entail foreign security forces on the ground.

However, the allies fear military intervention in Syria could ignite a wider conflict, and few observers expect robust action from the United States, which Turkey views as vital to any operation in Syria.

Agreeing with Bakeer, Seale added that Turkey has been left in the lurch militarily. "It has called for a no-fly zone along the border inside Syria but no one -- not the US, nor any European power, much less any Arab state -- seems ready to consider enforcing it. No one wants to intervene militarily in the Syrian conflict, and without such an intervention it is unlikely that the rebels can defeat the Syrian army," said Seale, adding that Turkey was evidently most reluctant to intervene on its own without the participation of other powers.

Current indications are that the regime is starting to crumble from within, though not rapidly enough to stem the bloodshed and avert a protracted and probably chaotic endgame, said Pollock. He added that unilateral direct intervention in Syria would be risky, but there are other ways to speed things up in the right direction.

"Turkey should step up concrete political, humanitarian and military aid to acceptable Syrian opposition forces. New aid should include the anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons required for self-defense against the Assad regime's indiscriminate assaults. Such aid would likely reduce the necessity and the risks of additional measures that might be considered, such as no-fly and no-drive safe zones along Syria's borders," said Pollock.

Turkey has led calls for intervention, including no-fly zones enforced by foreign aircraft to stop deadly air raids by Assad's forces.

Seale said that the dangerous awakening of Syria's Kurds who demand autonomy in an area of northern Syria close to the Turkish border is another concern for Turkey.

"First of all, the Syrian conflict has settled into a murderous stalemate: It does not look as if either side can win an outright victory. In the meantime, Turkey finds itself burdened with well over 100,000 Syrian refugees and it is facing opposition to its Syrian policy from different communities at home," said Seale.

The refugee issue is a significant concern for the internal stability of Turkey. Turkey has set up refugee camps on its border for Syrians who have fled the fighting, and Turkey said it will continue to keep its open-door policy despite the fact that the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey has now exceeded the "psychological threshold" of 100,000.

Bakeer believes that Turkey doesn't seem to have a specific policy regarding the Syrian crisis, which he describes as "dangerous."

"Turkey's position is defined by reactionary emotive steps, as it discovered that it lost the initiative and has no ability to effectively influence the Western stances on Syria. Turkey doesn't seem to be reading the situation well and the crisis has become very complicated," said Bakeer.

Turkey, once a close ally to the Assad regime, and now a country that seeks its downfall, considers Syria a "clear and present" threat to the stability of the region.

Adopting a similar view, Seale stated that it seems as if emotion rather than cold, strategic calculation drove Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to switch from warm friendship towards Assad to bitter hatred. "Perhaps it was because Turkey had hoped that Syria would be the lynchpin of its Arab policy. When this long-nourished hope turned to dust, Ankara's disappointment was evidently very great. The situation has now changed radically -- unfortunately very much to Turkey's disadvantage," said Seale.

At the start of the Syrian crisis, the US encouraged Turkey to take a harsh stance against the Assad regime. Now, however, Turkey no longer feels the open US backing it did in the past, and is disappointed over the position of the international community on the Syrian crisis.

"Turkey should seek greater UN, NATO, Arab League and international legal authority for a more interventionist policy to protect the Syrian people and their neighbors. But this need not mean the futile wait to overcome Russian and Chinese obstruction in the Security Council. For example, if Assad's forces keep pushing refugees toward the border and shelling Turkish territory, Ankara would be well within its rights to claim NATO protection under Article 7 of the alliance treaty, as well as UN legitimacy under Article 51 of the Charter, recognizing the right of national and collective self-defense," said Pollock.

In brief, experts say that Turkey's existing policy toward Syria is justified but unsuccessful, adding that due to the serious threats posed by the crisis, Turkey should use all the tools it has to accelerate the fall of Assad. (Cihan/Sundays Zaman) CİHAN
Last Modified: 2012-11-11 18:00:01
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