Feature

Syria: Will the conflict widen to Turkey?

The Turkish parliament authorized cross-border raids into Syria after Syrian shells landed in Turkey and killed five people.

Syria’s civil war threatens to spark a conflict that could engulf the Middle East, said Al-Quds Al-Arabi (U.K.) in an editorial. Last week, after Syrian shells landed across the border and killed five Turkish civilians, Turkey’s parliament gave Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan the authority to order cross-border raids into Syria. Since then, the two sides have exchanged fire nearly every day. It’s no surprise that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would choose to provoke Turkey: His regime sees the country as “the main threat to its survival” because Erdogan openly supports the Syrian rebels. But Turkey shouldn’t rise to the bait. Its army is already fighting insurgents at home, and the Turkish people have no appetite for another military adventure. We can only hope that “Erdogan’s war talk is meant for public consumption and an attempt at unnerving Syrian authorities.”

It had better be just that, said Alireza Rezakhah in the Khorasan News (Iran). “Any unilateral military action by Turkey against Syria will face serious regional opposition” not only from Iran, but also from Iraq and Lebanon. Further afield, Turkey could expect China and Russia to “inflict a huge cost” as well. The fighting would spread, and Turkey’s government would be among the first victims. That’s obviously what Assad wants everyone to think, said Al-Ahram (Egypt). The Syrian regime provokes one of its neighbors every time it “senses imminent collapse.” At various times since this conflict began last year, Syrian troops and artillery have come perilously close to crossing the Iraqi border, the Lebanese border, and the Jordanian border, and even stirred up trouble by encouraging Palestinians near the Golan Heights. “The Syrian regime believes these arbitrary operations prove that its collapse would lead to the breakout of a destructive regional war.” But it’s just a bluff.

The Syrian opposition, rather than the regime, could actually be behind the rocket fire on Turkey, said Rauf Shahuri in Al-Anwar (Lebanon). The rebels control some Syrian territory near Turkey, after all, and can easily fire shells across the border and then claim they came from the regime. The rebels clearly aim “to draw Turkey into the conflict” on their side, even if they have to use “crooked ways” to do it. It’s their best hope of defeating Assad.

In fact, Assad could benefit if Turkey were to declare war, said Hasan Kanbolat in Today’s Zaman (Turkey). Turks battling Arabs for the first time since the Ottoman period could “provoke Arab nationalism” and cast Assad as the defender of Arab honor. Still, we Turks can’t tolerate “permanent chaos” in Syria—we already have that in Iraq, the other country on our southern border. So Turkey will have to redouble its efforts to find some kind of political resolution for Syria. And in the meantime? It would be wise to ramp up our provisioning of the rebels to include “heavy arms.” Only a reliable buffer zone along the border can keep us out of the conflict—and buy time for the negotiations that must eventually take place.

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