(Damascus, Syria) Since the outbreak of events in Syria in March 2011, Erdogan’s Turkey has been heavily involved in providing a safe passage way, training camps, logistic support, intelligence and military backing for tens of thousands of terrorists and fanatics from all four corners of the globe. The brain behind the neo-Ottoman plot in Syria and Iraq was the former Turkish Prime and Foreign Minister Ahmad Davutoglu, and Hakan Fidan, Chief of Turkish Intelligence MIT, both close friends and former advisers to Rajab Tayyib Erdogan.
Erdogan’s domestic as well as foreign policy has been an explosive minefield threatening the breakup of Turkey. The staged coup in 2016 and the massive repression campaign that followed, with the detention and dismissal of hundreds of thousands of both military and civilian staff, the escalating tension between Turkey and almost all of its neighbours, along with the United States and EU countries at a certain stage, have all rendered Erdogan skating on an increasingly thin ice.
Adding fuel to an already raging fire, was Trump’s recent dramatic announcement that he was withdrawing US troops from Syria, numbering some 2000, and the subsequent turmoil amongst regional and local allies, mainly Kurds, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and Israel to a lesser degree, and later Trump’s quick change of mind when he announced that he will leave some 200 US troops in northeast Syria and the US base in Al Tanf, which has caused even more confusion and ambiguity in an already tense and uncertain situation in and around Syria.
Erdogan was quick to seize this opportunity by trying to fill the gap created by the withdrawal of American troops from Syria. He adamantly strived to convince Trump that Turkey can handle both the Kurdish separatist groups, particularly the SDF, trained and godfathered by the United States, as well as the challenge of an independent Kurdish entity along the Syrian-Turkish 936 km borders.
It is evident that there is no love lost between the two leaders, Trump and Erdogan, and no trust whatsoever between Erdogan and all those who have dealt with him, with Qatar being the only possible exception, so far.
With rising tensions between Ankara on the one hand, and Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE and other Arab nations on the other, it has left Erdogan with very few choices. Close circles around the Turkish leader sense that he, therefore, finds himself torn between conflicting forces and incoherent alliances.
Whilst the Trump administration’s explanation for this reversal was “stability as the war against ISIS winds down”, and “campaign continuity” in this part of Syria, this justification has posed more unanswered questions, such as:
How is Turkey going to balance its historical and nightmarish feud with the US-backed Kurdish parties Ankara deems as terrorists and an adjunct of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), and its commitments and obligations under the agreement with Trump regarding Kurds and areas east of the Euphrates following the pullout of US troops?
What about Erdogan’s deals and understandings with Iran and Russia regarding Syria, and can Erdogan afford to antagonize them, particularly Putin who, on more than one occasion, provided Erdogan with a rope to climb down the tree he put himself in?
A hastily arranged top-level Saudi-Emirati security meeting in Abu Dhabi had concluded that Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria has changed almost all equations in Syria and beyond, that Turkey is their biggest threat and not Iran, and therefore it is in their national interest to resume diplomatic relations with Damascus and reopen embassies. Sudanese president Omar Al Basheer was dispatched on their behalf to meet with Syrian president Bashar Al Assad in Damascus, the first such visit by an Arab head of state in almost 7 years.
Messenger received, message welcomed and the UAE embassy was quickly reopened. Many other Gulf and Arab countries were planning to follow suit, but they came under huge pressure from Washington to slow down and even halt normalizing relations with Assad, as this would have proven that he had won the war, even if just through diplomacy, and so the decision was made to obey Uncle Sam’s orders.
The recent trilateral summit in Russia has made some headway regarding one of the more complex, crucial and intricate issues still hanging in the strategic balance, namely that of Idlib. But despite smiles and press releases and media statements, progress on this vital issue has been incredibly slow.
It is widely believed that YPG, PYD, SDF- Kurdish organisations, parties and militias that come in various colours, shapes and forms, stand to be the biggest losers in this regional and international tug of war. Erdogan in the meantime has to make sure he doesn’t tread on the wrong foot during this treacherous war dance, for the price might cost him his neo-Ottoman dream.