Turkey’s goal is endless uncertainty in Syria

The President of Turkey went to Europe to meet with the President of the United States, Joe Biden. The meeting was apparently so that Turkey could present some new policies to the US administration. Ankara has had to walk a fine line with the Biden administration because it was very close to the Trump administration and the ruling party in Turkey has been hostile to the American Democrats and Biden in particular.

However, Turkey has other things it wants. He wants to create instability and uncertainty in Syria as a distraction. In 2015, Turkey was concerned that the United States was backing the newly created Syrian Democratic Forces, which were defeating ISIS in Syria. Turkey, which had helped allow tens of thousands to cross the border and join ISIS, wanted to use extremist groups in Syria as tools of Ankara politics. When those groups fought each other and some turned to join ISIS, Ankara realized that it had to take a more active role in Syria.

At first, Ankara wanted a cheap way to support the Syrian rebels. In 2015, when the United States sent special forces to Syria, Turkey became concerned that an empowered Kurdish-led policy in eastern Syria could inspire the Kurds in Turkey. The ruling AKP party and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had once courted Kurdish voters, but in 2015 it had started turning against minorities and former allies while stoking conspiracy theories and growing authoritarianism.

Turkey changed in 2015 and finally got to work with Russia and Iran in Syria. After the 2016 coup attempt and after the HDP party in Turkey won in the polls, Ankara began sending soldiers to Syria. Various operations led to the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds and gave Turkey a swath of northern Syria. With the Trump administration in power in 2017, Turkey was able to push for a bigger role in Syria. Turkey sold itself as tough on Iran, but quickly came to defy NATO during the Trump years, happy to see a “America First” president who could pull out of the Middle East and let Turkey take the place. from the United States.

Missile fire is observed over Damascus, Syria, on January 21, 2019. SANA / HANDOUT VIA REUTERS

Now things have come full circle. With Trump out, it is Ankara that appears to be asking the Biden administration for attention. Ankara has fewer outlets for Biden. With Trump, the Turkish leader would talk about a “deal” for Syria and outsourcing the conflict from ISIS to Ankara. Biden is more practical. The United States said on October 31 that “President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey today on the sidelines of the G20 Summit. President Biden underscored his desire to maintain constructive relationships, expand areas of cooperation, and manage our disagreements effectively. ”

The White House reading says that Biden “expressed appreciation for nearly two decades of Turkey’s contributions to NATO’s mission in Afghanistan. The leaders discussed the political process in Syria, the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Afghans in need, the elections in Libya, the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean and diplomatic efforts in the South Caucasus. President Biden reaffirmed our defense partnership and Turkey’s importance as a NATO ally, but noted the United States’ concerns about Turkey’s possession of the Russian S-400 missile system. He also emphasized the importance of strong democratic institutions, respect for human rights and the rule of law for peace and prosperity ”.

Much of this is diplomatic niceties. What matters for Ankara is that the United States defends this concept of “NATO ally”. Turkey wants more F-16s now and wants a blank check to buy Russia’s S-400 system. But Ankara also goes from embracing the United States to attacking the United States every week. This could be read as chaos and instability, but threats and harassment have a pattern and are part of closely administered Ankara politics. Turkey threatens Western countries and then seems to want to confront them as a way not only to play “good cop, bad cop”, but also to make Ankara appear to be being moderate. This is the pattern of behavior that Iran has also adopted and Turkey is learning from how Iran squeezes concessions from the West.

About Syria, the rumor is that Turkey wants to launch a new invasion of Kurdish areas. Turkey may require some joint patrols or areas around Kobane. This comes in the middle of the celebration of “Kobane day” in the areas where the SDF is present. This represents the heroic victory over ISIS in the Battle of Kobane from 2014 to 2015. In that desperate battle, the Kurds fought to hold the city while surrounded. It was like the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942. This was the highest point for ISIS and after Kobane, the Kurds and later the SDF got the support of the United States and finally defeated ISIS in Raqqa.

Unfortunately for the SDF, it was victories in places like Raqqa and Manbij that led Ankara to seek to change the Syrian fighters Ankara backed in Syria to fight the Kurds. Ankara’s goal became a simple cynical trade-off: to use Syrian rebels to fight the Kurdish-led SDF, and in doing so, get the two independent movements in Syria to cancel each other out. With the partly Kurdish SDF fighting the mostly Arab Syrian National Army (SNA), backed by Turkey, Turkey could negotiate deals with Russia and share the spoils.

Now the rumor is of another “trade” in Syria where Turkey will allow the Russian-backed Syrian regime to take some areas in Idlib and Turkey will take some areas near Tal Rifat or Manbij or Kobane. This would require some support from Moscow because Moscow controls the airspace in these areas. Turkey needs to be able to use the airspace so that its drones and planes can launch attacks.

Turkey knows that the SNA is reluctant to sacrifice more lives in Syria. Turkey does not want to be seen selling to Syrians. However, you also need a crisis to distract attention from financial failure at home. He also wants to send a message to Biden that it is Turkey that controls the keys to stability in Syria. In short, he could be saying to Washington: Give us F-16s or we’ll get you in trouble in Syria. He then tells Moscow: We want to humiliate the US-backed SDF, let us run some operations to do so and we will give you a victory in Idlib.

In the end, Turkey wins when the whole world is guessing what it wants to do and when Russia and the United States have to compete for Ankara’s support. That means you win when others are worried about what will come next. That is why Turkey leaks information to the media that hints at a new invasion and war, because it wants to dominate and push the narrative. It has done this before, fueling chaos every month and a new crisis. Last month he threatened to expel Western ambassadors when they supported detained human rights activists. That’s the “crisis per month” strategy. Sometimes Turkey’s boasting and intimidation actually lead Ankara to stage a military attack. Other times Turkey waves its swords and then backs off. For example, Turkey often creates fake crises with Greece and then descends.

Ankara has other issues that it also wants to address. It is selling drones to Ukraine and reports say Ukraine used a Turkish drone recently. This could be a setback for Russian-backed groups in Donbas that Ukraine considers separatists. Turkey could be in trouble with Moscow over drone sales. But Turkey could also be hinting to Moscow that it now has its fingers in Ukraine and the South Caucasus and could heat things up for Russia unless Moscow buckles to Ankara’s demands on Syria. Meanwhile, Turkey wants to say the same to France regarding Libya. It may not be a coincidence that open source intelligence monitors online have pointed to renewed moves by the leader of eastern Libya, Khalifa Haftar. The Libya Observer stated in an article that Haftar “the plane lands in Israel.” He pointed to an Israeli report by Itay Blumental that tracked the plane. Nothing is known about the accuracy of these reports. What matters is that Haftar is in the news, Libya is in the news, and Turkey is making noise about Syria. Everything can be connected in a complex and indirect way that links the movements of Moscow, Turkey, the United States and other countries.


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