A controversial buffer zone in northern Kurdish-held Syrian-Turkish borders is to be jointly managed by the US and Turkey. This was announced following three days of intensive negotiations between the two NATO member states a week ago. Regardless of the pretexts given by both parties to the time-bomb agreement, the Syrian government gave a strong reaction both politically, by condemning the agreement as a ‘flagrant act of aggression’, and militarily, by enlarging operations against Turkish-backed militias in Hama, Idlib and Latakia countryside.
The differences between Ankara and Washington over the Kurdish issue, and the US-backed Kurdish militia, the YPG, are well known. However, well known, too, are Turkish expansionist plans in Syria and Ankara’s quest for a border buffer zone, since the very beginning of the conflict in Syria in 2011. The only difference is the pretext that is given by Erdogan’s regime to justify an invasion here, or an incursion there. No lessons appear to have been learned by Ankara from its decades-long wars against the Kurds in Iraq, nor from the fact that after more than half a century of fighting hopeless wars, Turkey seems much more than ever vulnerable to ethnic, religious and political fragmentation.
A Joint recipe for confrontation
The joint operation centre being established in order to manage tensions between US-backed Kurdish militia and Turkish forces in northern Syria may preclude an imminent conflict between the Kurds and their historical enemy, but no one can guarantee the exclusion of such a possibility in the long run.
The barrage of threats coming out of Ankara for years, have stepped up even more audaciously in recent weeks and days, warning that it intends to impose, even unilaterally if need be, a buffer zone by means of a large-scale military operation in northern Syria. This was interpreted by some observers as a sign of Turkish despair and lack of respect towards its Russian friends or even its NATO allies.
Other analysts believe that behind Erdogan’s heated threats of a big military operation east of the Euphrates River, lies a well-devised shrewd plot to fend off any possibility of a new military coup against him by keeping the Turkish army and its uneasy and unhappy top brass busy in a limited war in northern Syria. Statements issued by the Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu give reasonable credence to such theories.
Images and scenes from the failed coup against Erdogan on 15 July 2016 and the brutal and oppressive measure that followed affecting hundreds of thousands of Turkish officers, journalists, academics, judges and even students, let alone army, navy and air force officers still resonate loudly in the ears and minds of millions of Turks, and shall take decades to forget or reconcile with.
Sidestepping a conflict or wrong-footing it?
The US on the other hand, hopes that the new agreement should dampen Ankara’s heated threats and forestall a military operation against Washington’s spoiled Kurdish allies, trained, armed and godfathered by the Trump administration. Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist offshoot of the Kurdish PKK, which has fought a highly costly and bloody guerrilla warfare inside its territory for over 35 years. It’s iconic leader Abdullah Ocalan has been jailed by Turkish authorities at the top-security Imrali prison island since 1999. He was sentenced to death under Article 125 of the Turkish Penal Code.
As some leaders of Syrian Kurds were calling for a security zone to address their legitimate concerns and protect them from Turkey, the Turkish defense ministry said in a statement that Ankara had agreed with US officials to ‘implement without delay’ the first measures aimed at eliminating ‘Turkey’s concerns’. The paradox gets even weirder when we realize that both sides are trying to solve their bilateral problems and justify a blatant act of aggression on someone else’s sovereign territory.
Neither the United States nor Russia shall forgive the difficult position Erdogan’s volatile attitude, policies and treacherous ground has put them through. The recent controversial S-400 air defense missile deal seems to have done very little to change Erdogan’s fickle and booby-trapped endeavors with friends, allies and foes alike.
Syria’s president pledges to liberate every inch of Syrian land from terrorists and invaders; a pledge heavily supported by evidence from the battle field with current strategic advances by the Syrian army in Hama and Idlib. Taking into account this pledge and the deteriorating economic situation in Turkey, (same factor that shot Erdogan to power), Erdogan might end up the biggest loser in these perilous schemes. The recent US-Turkish agreement over a border security zone east of the Euphrates River shall, almost inevitably, have the same destiny of the ill-fated buffer zone set up by Israel in southern Lebanon some 4 decades ago.