Turkey: One Step From Invading Syria

Turkey: One Step From Invading Syria

On September 30, Turkish pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak reported that 36 Turkish soldiers in Syria were in danger. The tomb of Suleyman Shah (XII-XIII), the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire Osman I, on the Euphrates River, 35 km from the Turkish-Syrian border, is Turkish territory under the Ankara 1921 treaty and still guarded by a few dozen Turkish troops. The Islamic State militants were advancing on a tiny exclave where the guards were encircled. The very same day on September 30 the Turkish government held an emergency session. Vice Premier Bulent Arinc confirmed that the memorial and the Turkish servicemen were threatened…

According to Turkish media, during the recent four months the Turkish General Staff of the armed forces have demanded to evacuate the guards, but the government refused to take the decision. 

Earlier there was a political scandal tied to YouTube. The conversations of Turkish officials discussing how to manufacture a pretext to invade Syria were leaked through YouTube on March 27, 2014. The details of the plan were discussed on March 13 in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by then Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, the current Prime Minister, Undersecretary of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioğlu, Deputy Chief of General Staff Yaşar Güler and Hakan Fidan, Head of Turkish Intelligence Agency. Some time after the recording was posted the access to the YouTube service was blocked. On August 5, 2013, Prime Minister Erdogan said that the «tomb of Suleiman Shah [in Syria] and the land surrounding it is our territory. We cannot ignore any unfavorable act against that monument, as it would be an attack on our territory».

Ankara has been trying to convince the United States that it would be expedient to conduct a ground operation by Turkish army. Washington has been remaining hesitant. An invasion by a NATO member would entail many questions including the invocation of Article 5 of the Washington’s Treaty. The United States won’t be happy in case Turkey establishes its control over the northern part of Syria. 

The Turkish Prime Minister has recently returned from the United States where he took part in the session of United Nations General Assembly and held meetings with US officials. The US and Turkish governments spoke at the same time about the need to resolutely oppose the Islamic State. The United States uses weapons with capability to deliver strikes beyond the limits of local conflict. For instance, the US Air Force uses strategic bombers B-1, F-15, f-16 and F/A -18 fighters, unmanned aerial vehicles MQ-1 Predator and KC-135 tankers. For the first time the fifth generation F-22 stealth fighters took part in combat actions. Tomahawk surface-to-shore missiles were launched from submarines and surface ships in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. The area subject to strikes keeps on being extended. At first the strikes were at targets situated in Ar-Raqqah in the northern part of Syria and Abu Kamal at the Iraqi border. Later the combat area was extended to the Syrian provinces of Deir ez-Zor, Hasake, Aleppo, Idlib and Homs. 

Erdogan said that Turkey wants a «buffer zone» to be established to provide security in the north of Syria. Under the circumstances a real or simulated attack against the tomb of Tomb of Suleyman Shah and the guards may be viewed by Ankara as casus belli opening the way for an invasion of Syria. 

Now the Turkish parliament has started to debate the possibility of a ground operation in Syria and establishment of a buffer zone at the border. No doubt the plan of invasion has been thoroughly prepared. A deal on transferring Turkish hostages kept prisoners in Mosul concluded with the United States and Qatar acting as intermediaries could add some corrections to the plan. It can be conjectured that the first move would be «setting free» the ceremonial guards at burial place of Suleyman Shah in the Aleppo province. 

There is a pretext for Turkish intervention into Syria. At that the plan worked out by Washington and Turkey may hit snags. The location of the «Turk’s tomb» as it is called in Syria is located at the distance of 35 kilometers from the border. It presupposes the establishment of a buffer zone between the two states. Turkey can move a few army brigades deep into the Syrian territory but it would require the support of NATO to maintain and protect the contingent which undoubtedly would be perceived as an occupying force committing an act of aggression by Damascus and its allies. 

There is another aspect to be taken into consideration by the Turkish government before taking the final decision. The move will certainly exacerbate the already strained relations with Iran. Tehran has already refused to discuss a «silent pact» to divide the «spheres of influence» in Syria and Iraq.