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Reasons behind Erdogan’s Threat to Expand Military Op in Northern Syria

Alwaght– Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s saber-rattling in Syria which started with his military intervention in northern Syria under the Operation Euphrates Shield has so far been subjected to opposition by both the pro-Syrian actors and Ankara’s Western allies. Despite the objections to the Syria campaign and Erdogan’s relative success in curbing the Syrian Kurds’ power gain, the Turkish leader’s thirst for advancing in Syria’s north is not quenched. On Friday, Erdogan in a speech announced that Turkey would launch a military operation in the east of the Euphrates inside Syria in the upcoming days.

Since the beginning of the devastating conflict in Syria, the Syrian Kurds gained weight in the northern areas, where they are traditionally a majority. Turkey read the Kurdish advances as a threat to its national security. Kurds stepped up their efforts to establish their own rule and connect the three cantons of Kobani, Island, and Afrin after they entered an alliance with the US. At this point, Ankara set aside a policy of patience with the Washington’s policy and directly acted against the US-backed Kurdish forces.

Turkey attacked the Kurds, gathered under the People’s Protection Units (YPG), in Afrin and seized the city. On the other side, the central government in Damascus took the lead in the war against the foreign-backed terrorist groups and restored much of the territories it lost when the war broke out nearly eight years ago. With these developments, now split of Syria is practically unthinkable, which means the Turkish security concerns are relatively eliminated. With all these in mind, what is driving the Turkish leader to a new operation in the Syrian territory? Will he really realize his promise of a new intervention?

Issuing an ultimatum to Washington

The Syrian crisis over the past few years has been a serious arena where the Washington-Ankara relationship went strained. The Kurdish forces, mainly the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), are the only force at Washington’s disposal with the power to influence the course of the developments in Syria. Washington, however, does not utterly rely on the Kurds. Besides, it seeks to have the Turkish support as an ally for its policy in the Syrian conflict, though the Americans have not yet succeeded in their attempts to get Ankara on board.

Recently, the US said it is setting up “observation posts” on the Syrian-Turkish borders to block possible clashes between the YPG fighters and the Turkish troops. The move, however, failed to win the confidence of the Turkish leadership. Turks argue that the dispatch of the US-led military coalition’s troops on the border with Turkey will not serve the Turkish security against the Kurdish attacks. Rather, it eyes protecting the Kurdish allies of Washington.

Certainly, the US will find silence in the face of Turkey’s new operation in the east of Euphrates a full defeat to its Syria policy with highly negative consequences to the American interests in West Asia region. That is why Pentagon reacted to the Turkish plan of new Syria territory invasion. Sean Roberson, the spokesman to the Pentagon on Wednesday warned of a new anti-Kurdish assault.

“Unilateral military action into northeast Syria by any party, particularly as U.S. personnel may be present or in the vicinity, is of grave concern. We would find any such actions unacceptable,” the spokesman was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Certainly, Erdogan is aware of the US sensitivity and possible escalation of tensions and new anti-Ankara sanctions that the new military move could trigger. During his speech, the president said that the target of the campaign will not be the American soldiers. So, it can be said that the main intention behind the announcement is issuing an ultimatum to the Americans to press them to review their plans for supporting the Syrian Kurds and their political, military, and economic demands in the long run.

Drawing red line for Arab NATO

Yet another drive for Erdogan to engage in a new operation in Syria’s north is a desire to respond to the Washington efforts to establish an Arab version of NATO and drag it into the Syrian conflict. The US President Donald Trump several times emphasized on US forces withdrawal from Syria, though many analysts called the remarks “a tactic” meant to blackmail the wealthy Arab states, mainly Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which want the US forces to continue the presence in Syria. The Turkish warnings can also affect the plans for an Arab force deployment to Syria. After all, the Arab alliance project, led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, is also aimed at pushing against the Turkish policy of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political movement banned in the Arab world.

Taking advantage of Kurdish wasted opportunity  

Over the past few weeks, and mainly at the latest Astana peace meeting, serious talks were held to form a constitution committee for Syria. The move, led by Russia, Iran, and Turkey, also has the UN support. However, a problem with the latest round of talks was the absence of a Kurdish delegation. Part of this absence should be put down to Ankara’s opposition to participation of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) which is understood by Turkey an extension of the PKK terrorist group. But the main part of the cause of the Kurdish absence rests in the US dictation to the Kurds to avoid involvement in Astana and Sochi peace processes. Contrary to the US and Turkish view, the Russians see the Kurdish independent involvement in the constitution committee meetings essential to the stabilization of Syria.

Now Erdogan finds the opportunity ripe to take advantage of Kurdish waste of opportunity of settling problems with the central government by showing compromises on their highly unrealizable demands in negotiations with Damascus. As a proof to this claim, we can refer to Erdogan comments. Explaining the reasons motivating his imminent operation in Syria, the Turkish leader said the operation will open the way for a political solution and peaceful cooperation in Syria.

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