Turkey Is Now Attempting to Create a Brave New World
By William Tucker
Columnist, In Homeland Security
On Oct. 8, 2019, Turkey launched its long-delayed offensive into northern Syria. According to Twitter, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that the purpose of the offensive “was to prevent the creation of a terror corridor across our southern border, and to bring peace to the area.”
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Additionally, Erdogan said that Turkey’s action aimed to “preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and liberate local communities from terrorists.” So far, the scope of the offensive appears limited to a handful of villages close to the Turkish-Syrian border, but that offensive is likely to expand in the coming days.
Media reports say civilians are fleeing the area, further adding to the number of internally displaced people in the nearly decade-long conflict. Turkey’s initial targets are Kurdish YPG militia positions, which have already prompted calls from several European powers calling on Ankara to halt its military operations.
US Involvement with Turkey and Syria
U.S. involvement in Syria largely centered on fighting the Islamic State. With help from Kurdish forces, Washington played a pivotal role in dismantling the terror organization. When President Trump took office, he sought to withdraw U.S. forces from the seemingly endless wars in the Middle East.
Trump has made numerous comments on a U.S. withdrawal from Syria, but that withdrawal has not yet happened. Most recently, the President withdrew American forces from the Turkish border area as opposed to pulling them out of Syria completely.
The pullback from the border area comes as Turkey and the U.S. were unable to come to terms over how a safe zone in Syria’s Kurdish area would function, or more importantly, how large that zone would be. Washington, however, has threatened sanctions if Ankara takes its offensive too far.
Trump has gone so far as to threaten to “obliterate” Turkey’s economy, but he has not given any indication as to where his red line would be. Turkey already faces U.S. sanctions over its purchase of a Russian air defense system earlier this year.
With high inflation and significant unemployment, the Turkish economy faces a real threat from U.S. sanctions. But such economic threats have not dissuaded Ankara from pursuing its independent foreign policy.
Is Turkey Trying to Secure Syria’s Mediterranean Coast and Disrupt Greek Energy Exploration?
Turkey’s anger over the Syria issue is what garners most of the press coverage, but a potentially dangerous issue over energy exploration has been brewing in the Eastern Mediterranean for the past few years. On October 8, Greek press accounts claimed that Turkey had surrounded the island nation of Cyprus with 20 warships.
If one were to take the Greek media at their word, it is possible that Turkey is using its navy to secure Syria’s Mediterranean coast while supporting operations in northern Syria. This rationale would certainly allow Turkey to disrupt attempts at extracting oil and natural gas from the fields off the Cypriot coast as well. The deployment of these naval assets, if true, is most likely for this dual purpose.
Turkey May Face EU Sanctions
Turkey’s behavior toward Cyprus, Israel, Greece and Egypt over energy extraction in the Eastern Mediterranean has resulted in some EU sanctions. In the coming weeks, further sanctions from the EU look increasingly likely.
Turkey is already lashing out at the EU for criticisms of its nascent Syria offensive and has threatened to turn its 3.6 million Syrian refugees loose on Europe. Chances are that Turkey will make good on this threat, regardless of European or U.S. action.
Ankara has struggled with an ailing economy, and Turkey depends on foreign aid to care for Syrian refugees. With the addition of further sanctions from the EU and most likely the U.S., Turkey’s economy will suffer even more.
It Appears that Turkey Intends to Follow a Foreign Policy Independent of the US
Turkey has crossed its metaphorical Rubicon with these actions in Syria, Cyprus and the wider Middle East. That said, Turkey has engaged in provocative behavior before and Ankara’s NATO partners have let it slide.
It should be noted that these earlier transgressions occurred during the Cold War when Turkey was a vital NATO partner in containing Soviet expansion. That no longer seems to be the case.
Turkey and the U.S. have parted ways in a sense, and each will follow an independent foreign policy going forward. Turkey’s Syrian offensive is about more than dealing with the Kurdish issue. The Middle East is being remade, and Turkey is making a play for regional dominance.
UPDATE: US Says Turkey Okays Ceasefire