Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, April 10th, 2012
Will Turkey Invade Syria? Can the West find a new calculus for the Syria dilemma?
By Joshua Landis
Syrian Refugees in Turkey
Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Naci Koru’s remarked yesterday that tomorrow “a new period will begin” in Turkey’s Syria policy. Is this rhetorical bluster? Turkish officials say that they are seriously contemplating imposing a humanitarian corridor inside Syria, but will not “invade” Syria. The difference between imposing a corridor and invasion my only be academic, however.
Turkish statesmen, no doubt, feel great pressure to take action in Syria. Who would not be outraged by the Syrian attack on refugees and Turkish workers inside Turkey? The humanitarian crisis is appalling. The refugee problem is going from bad to worse. Syria is a mess. Syrian soldiers are neither restrained by Damascus nor discouraged from using the most inhuman methods to regain control of rebel towns. The central state seems to be in decline as the army lashes out without restraint and the economy withers.
All the same, I find it hard to imagine that Turkey will invade. Perhaps Turkey will up the ante in some way to hurt Syria in an effort to dissuade it from allowing its soldiers to act so disrespectfully. Something must be done. But Syria is a swamp. Its Kurdish region could secede to join Iraq. And the US does not want to get in the middle of a civil war. The Turkish government seems loath to take decisive action against Syria without firm US and European guarantees of partnership and commitment. The costs of stabilizing and rebuilding Syria will be immense.
I cannot see Turkish officials allowing their fit of peek to overtake their national interest. Turkey can only lose if it invades alone. In all probability, should Ankara invade, it would not be able to extract itself from Syria until the Syria regime was toppled, Alawite power destroyed, and a substitute government put in place. That is a very tall order. The US has attempted it twice in Iraq and Afghanistan and failed. Libya, where western governments brought down the government but refused the task of nation-building is becoming a failed state beset by too many militias.
The problem with Syria is that if one regards it with nothing but cold calculation, Assad remains the lesser of possible evils, which could be chaos, lawlessness, or militia infighting. The opposition has shown no capacity for united leadership. It cannot impose order on itself let alone on fractious Syria.
The US, equally, can count few substantial benefits from intervention in Syria. Pundits claim that the present situation presents a once in a life time opportunity to hurt Iran, help Israel, and change the balance of power in the region. But Iran is already hurt by Assad’s weakness. The Iranian economy is weak and the government throw good money after bad at Syria. Syria cannot harm its neighbors. It is a moral and military liability for Hizbullah. Hamas has decamped from Damascus already. The Assad regime as it stands today is a threat to no one save Syrians.
Syria is a moral and humanitarian disaster. It begs for a humanitarian solution. But it is not a grave security threat. It will only become a security threat if the regime falls and there is no authority to take its place. I suspect regional statesmen are imagining all sorts of worst case scenarios should the regime fall: the spread of jihadism and al-Qaida, civil war, the possible break up of Syria, a rising death toll, and increased refugee outflows. Who can assure them that these nightmares would not become real? Assad has always insisted that without him Syria would fall apart and the region would face chaos or worse. He once threatened that should foreign powers intervene, Syria would be worse than a hundred Afghanistans. He is still making that calculation and few want to call his bluff. It is possible that world leaders are adding up the numbers in the same way that Assad is; although they struggling to find a new calculus for the Syria dilemma.
[End of Landis article]
The article is in today’s Zaman. Here are the relevant excerpts:
“What will happen if the UN cannot get its act together, and Russia and China end up using their veto powers for the third time? Ankara will probably invoke the 1998 Adana agreement with Syria to justify the military interference while calling on NATO members for the application of the Article 5 of the NATO Charter…
On Oct. 20, 1998, both Turkey and Syria signed the Adana Agreement, which set out very explicit terms for preventing PKK activities in Syria. It squarely puts all the responsibility on the Syrian government in this matter. For example, Article 1 of the Adana Agreement states that Syria will not permit any activity on its territory aimed at jeopardizing the “security and stability of Turkey.” Be it PKK terrorism or a crackdown on the opposition, both would be considered threats that seriously jeopardize the “security and stability of Turkey” — in which case Turkey reserves the right to take necessary measures for self-defense, including armed interference into Syrian territory to contain the threat…
Syria has bowed to Turkish pressure before. In the late 1990s, Bashar’s father Hafez al-Assad caved under the pressure mounted by Turkey, and finally stopped harboring the fugitive PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and expelled him from Damascus
But the most comprehensive deal came in 2010 when the two sides inked a significant agreement on cooperation against terror. It was signed on Dec. 21, 2010 by Davutoğlu and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem and ratified by the Turkish Parliament on April 6, 2011. This agreement has 23 articles, which have important implications for Turkey. For example, Article 7 of the agreement gives both parties the right to conduct joint operations in each other’s territory. If Turkey officially recognizes the Syrian National Council (SNC) as the only legitimate government of Syria, which is likely to happen in the upcoming Paris meeting of the Friends of Syria if Assad fails to follow through on the Annan plan, it can very well secure the consent of the SNC to launch joint operations with the Free Syrian Army against Assad’s forces.
All in all, the urgency to act against the Assad regime’s aggression on its own citizens, in order to stabilize the country as soon as possible, is a sensitive issue for the national security of Turkey. For that Ankara is willing, even determined, according to some officials, to invoke unilateral or multilateral legal remedies at its disposal. It clearly prefers the multilateral approach for the time being. But when push comes to shove, Turkey will not hesitate to act alone, as it did in 1998 in Syria or in 1975 in Cyprus. Watch out for the signal that will indicate that Turkey is ready to act: When the government decides to seek a mandate from the Turkish Parliament for troop deployment in a foreign country, as it must according to the Constitution, it will mean the real warning shot for military incursion into Syria has already been fired.”
Annan’s Letter to UNSC – last two paragraphs
…..But recent events are deeply concerning. The prevailing security and human rights situation is unacceptable. This crisis has lasted for more than one year, has produced an intolerably heavy death toll and is now triggering increased flows of refugees throughout the region. Earlier this morning, I saw. with my own eyes the devastating impact of the crisis in a refugee camp in Turkey, close to the border with Syria. The scale of the suffering of the Syrian people is clear. A cessation of violence is urgent.
The Syrian leadership should now seize the opportunity to make a fundamental change of course. It is essential that the next 48 hours bring visible signs of immediate and indisputable change in the military posture of the Government forces throughout the country, as called upon by the six point plan, and that items (a), (b) and (e) of paragraph 2 of the six point plan are fully implemented, to enable a cessation of armed violence on 12 April. We urge the opposition also to fulfill their commitments to the six-point plan and give no excuse for the government to renege on its commitments. The clear declarations coming from the opposition are encouraging in this respect.
Susan Rice (@AmbassadorRice) 4/9/12: “After all this time & bloodshed–after all the commitments made & promises broken–we are facing a moment of truth. #Syria”…. If #Syria refuses to implement Annan’s plan despite its commitments, then Russia/China have to be prepared to follow their words w/actions.”
Saudi Defense Minister Salman also in DC tomorrow, coinciding w mtg of Quartet principles – Clinton, Lavrov, Ban Ki-moon & Ashton #syria
Syrian military vengeance on Anadaan: the following video shows footage of the poor town that makes up part of Aleppo’s norther suburbs. It was opposition turf for some months before recent military operations in the area – part of the regime’s “clear and hold” counter-insurgency strategy.
Syria: Bashar al-Assad ‘will pay’ for breaking peace pledge
By Richard Spencer, 10 Apr 2012
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria fell under renewed threat of international action today after peace negotiator Kofi Annan said his regime had broken its promises to embrace a ceasefire.
Mr Annan, the former United Nations secretary-general who has tried to broker an accord, told the Security Council that the regime had not pulled its troops and heavy equipment out of towns and cities by today, as demanded.
“It is essential that the next 48 hours bring visible signs of immediate and indisputable change in the military posture of the government forces throughout the country, as called upon by the six-point plan,” a letter read to the council said. He added that Syria was demanding a guarantee that the rebels lay down their arms and disband, and a commitment by regional nations not to arm them….
….Syria has learnt a “very hard lesson from the Arab League observer saga” and does not want the same thing to happen again, a former Syrian ambassador to Turkey, Dr. Nidal Kabalan, told RT.
“[Rebels] fostered in Syrian cities and towns, and it has cost extra hundreds of innocent lives of civilians and army soldiers to get rid of some of those armed gangs,” Kabalan said.
At least two large militant bases have been found and secured on Saturday, Syrian authorities reported. One was located in the city of Douma, just 12 kilometers north of Damascus, and the other in Yabrud, 80 kilometers north of the capital. Government news agency Sana said loyalist troops discovered large caches of weapons and arrested a number of people suspected of kidnappings and murders. Smaller scale operations are taking place in other parts of the country….
Britain and other Western powers called for Mr Assad to be censured by the UN. William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, said he wanted the Security Council to refer Mr Assad to the International Criminal Court.
“President Assad and his closest cronies should be under no doubt that they will be held to account for their actions,” he said. The Security Council called for the Syrian government to make a “fundamental change of course” to end hostilities by 6am Damascus time Thursday.
But with Russia and China still likely to veto any Western action, the more significant response came from Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which have emerged as Mr Assad’s leading Middle Eastern critics.
The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced he was to visit Saudi Arabia on Friday to discuss the crisis and though neither side gave details of any new proposals, reports from Ankara said Mr Erdogan would call for concerted action.
Analysts say Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations are likely to begin the promised release of hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the rebels, while Turkey’s threatened buffer zone came much closer to reality after Syrian troops fired over the border on Monday.
“In Cold Blood: Summary Executions by Syrian Security Forces and Pro-Government Militias,” documents more than a dozen incidents involving at least 101 victims since late 2011, many of them in March 2012. Human Rights Watch documented the involvement of Syrian forces and pro-government shabeeha militias in summary and extrajudicial executions in the governorates of Idlib and Homs. Government and pro-government forces not only executed opposition fighters they had captured, or who had otherwise stopped fighting and posed no threat, but also civilians who likewise posed no threat to the security forces.
Turkish Defense Minister adopts provocative stance on Syria Press TV, Iran
Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz has adopted a provocative position regarding Syria, saying that Ankara is prepared for any development on the Syrian situation, including war.
Yilmaz, however, noted that Ankara is “not calling for war,” but that it will be prepared just in case.
Russia-China victory in Syria a sign of declining US power – 9 April 2012
It sets an important precedent in international relations, and is perhaps the clearest sign of declining US power in the Middle East.
For the first time since the end of the Cold War, Russia and China have effectively thwarted the United States and its allies from pursuing its interests in a fiery Middle Eastern flashpoint, Syria.
The Russian-Chinese double veto at the UN Security Council – the last in February – signalled to the West that the two powers were drawing a red line on Syria. Notably, China’s second veto on Syria was only its eighth in history, highlighting the importance of the matter to Beijing. The message was clear: UN-sponsored regime change, military intervention, or arming of Syrian rebels – as seen in Libya – would never pass…..
Turkey also hedged its bets on a quick Assad downfall, a strategic blunder that is now under sharp criticism from leading Turkish commentators and opposition leaders as the Syrian dictator appears to have held sway. Although it still hosts Syrian opposition groups and armed rebels, Turkey has notably toned down its harsh rhetoric of Assad in recent weeks. …
Turkish soldiers may establish buffer zones in Syria by the end of the month to protect civilians, Milliyet newspaper reported, citing interviews with unidentified officials.
U.S. senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman are expected to meet President Abdullah Gul today in Istanbul, and may also travel to refugee camps near Turkey’s border with Syria, Milliyet said.
The decision to arm the rebels has not yet been implemented – Guardian.co.uk, 5 Apr 2012 :
Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been saying they want to supply the Syrian rebels with weapons. “The decision to arm the rebels has been taken in principle, but it has not yet been implemented”, said Mustafa Alani of the Saudi-funded Gulf Institute of Strategic Studies in Dubai. British officials have informed the Guardian they see no evidence that large-scale government weapons transfers to Syrian rebels have taken place. Arab sources say a bigger effort may be imminent. Last week the Gulf states agreed to fund the SNC to pay wages to FSA rebels. This is seen as providing cover for arms purchases…. The situation is complicated by the fact that neither Jordan nor Turkey, which have land borders with Syria, are likely to allow transfers of significant armaments. The logistical difficulties in smuggling any supplies into Syria….
US Returning to Security Council To Protect Syrians, Says Burns
By Barbara Slavin
….Al-Monitor: What do you see as the Russian diplomatic role regarding Syria? If their base at Tartous is preserved, can they be convinced to drop Assad?
Burns: Russia’s diplomatic role is important, both as a permanent member of the Security Council and as a country with a longstanding close relationship with Damascus. Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Lavrov are in frequent contact to discuss Syria, and Presidents Obama and Medvedev also addressed this key issue during their meeting in Seoul. Obviously we were very disappointed with Russia’s vetoes in the Security Council. Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice have been unambiguous on that point. The Secretary has also been absolutely clear in her comments about deliveries of Russian arms to Syria. Russian officials have more recently claimed that they are “no friend” to Assad and have criticized the regime for “making mistakes” and for “reacting incorrectly” to the demonstrations…..
We believe that Russian pressure contributed to Assad’s acceptance of the Annan mission. We would like to see Russia use its influence with Assad to bring an end to the regime’s violence….
Crisisweb: Syria’s Phase of Radicalisation
2012-04-10 – Crisis Group
…Syrians from all walks of life appear dumbfounded by the horrific levels of violence and hatred generated by the crisis…..Full and timely implementation of Annan’s plan almost surely was never in the cards. But that is not a reason to give up on diplomacy in general or the Annan mission in particular. The priority at this stage must be to prevent the conflict’s further, dangerous and irreversible deterioration….
the outside word is caught between four costly postures. The regime’s allies, Iran and Hizbollah, have supported it unconditionally and have every incentive to continue doing so. Russia and China put the onus on regime foes at home and abroad to defuse the situation, expecting the former to lay down their arms and join an ill-defined “dialogue”, and the latter to cease all forms of pressure. The West remains confused and ambivalent, having exhausted all sources of diplomatic and economic leverage, fearful of the future and tiptoeing around the question of military options. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have spoken loudly of their intention to arm the rebellion but, even assuming they demonstrate the commitment and follow-through necessary to establish meaningful supply lines, it is hard to see how such efforts would bring a well-armed regime to its knees. Hamstrung between these conflicting stances, Annan’s mission has yet to achieve much traction other than rhetorical endorsements by all concerned….
As Crisis Group previously argued, the regime will genuinely shift its approach if and only if it faces a different balance of power – politically, through a change in Moscow’s attitude; or militarily, through a change on the ground….
Why Did Anyone Believe Bashar al-Assad’s Promises of a Ceasefire to Begin With?
By Radwan Ziadeh in The New Republic Daily Report, 04/10/12