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Can Turkey attack Syria?

Once the shining example of Turkey’s ‘strategic depth’, the Assad regime, as a result of its repression of Syrian dissent, has moved from a ‘zero-problems’ policy to a ‘tough love’ policy in Turkey’s foreign policy outlook. During his September speech in New York, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan emphasized Turkey’s changing view towards the Assad regime, indicating that he has invested a lot of political and personal capital on the Assad regime to the extent that Erdogan and Assad families had ”met together” in the past – albeit he indicated that Turkey cannot speak of a friendship or alliance with Syria as long as the regime ”shelled its own citizens”. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had also previously indicated that Turkey’s patience with Syria ‘‘is almost over” and the Turkish military has started to engage in drills in Hatay, on the Syrian border.

Non-governmental pressure on Turkey to act against the Assad regime is also mounting. Recently close to 15,000 Turkish and international activists and supporters signed a petition on asking the Turkish government to engage in targeted sanctions against the Assad regime. Turkish government also appears to be keen on imposing such sanctions unilaterally, despite the European failure at the United Nations to impose these sanctions in the first place. In the meantime, it is feared in Ankara that due to escalating tensions between Ankara and Damascus, the Assad regime might start arming or aiding the PKK rebels, who recently increased their attacks on the Turkish military.

Therefore, while preparing for targeted sanctions on Syria and meeting members of the opposition Syrian National Council, Turkish military is also preparing to fight a two-front war against the Assad regime if the Syrian situation poses a security risk to Turkey, while simultaneously countering the increasing threat of the hit-and-run attacks by the PKK that has created intense public reaction and pressure for a cross-border operation into northern Iraq. In late-September, Turkey closed its airspace to military cargo planes heading for Syria, effectively cutting arms and ammunition supplies to the Assad regime. Meanwhile, Turkish-Syrian escalation may turn into a regional war, Assad recently threatening Turkey that if NATO attacked Syria ”Syria will shower Tel Aviv with rockets”, while at the same time ”Iran will attack US warships in the Gulf”, simultaneously targeting ”European interests”.

Can Turkey attack Syria?



Akin Unver

Dr. Ünver is an assistant professor of international relations at Kadir Has University, Istanbul.

Previously he was the Ertegün Lecturer of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, Near Eastern Studies department - the only academic to retain this prestigious fellowship for two consecutive years. He conducted his joint post-doctoral studies at the University of Michigan’s Center for European Studies and the Center for the Middle East and North African Studies, where he authored several articles on Turkish politics, most notable of which is ”Turkey’s deep-state and the Ergenekon conundrum”, published by the Middle East Institute.

Born and raised in Ankara, Turkey, he graduated from T.E.D. Ankara College in 1999 and earned his B.A. in International Relations from Bilkent University (2003) and MSc in European Studies from the Middle East Technical University (2005). He received his PhD from the Department of Government, University of Essex, where his dissertation, ‘A comparative analysis of the discourses on the Kurdish question in the European Parliament, US Congress and Turkish National Assembly‘ has won the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) 2010 Malcolm H. Kerr Dissertation Award in Social Sciences.

Akın also assumed entry-level policy positions at the European Union Secretariat-General, Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Eurasian Center for Strategic Studies (ASAM) and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (D.C.), as well as teaching positions at the University of Essex (Theories of International Relations) and Sabancı University (Turkey and the Middle East).

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