THE BLOG

The Syrian Quagmire

Well, nobody had truly believed that the Annan Plan would work, had it not?

It was pretty clear from the very beginning that it would be welcomed by Assad and his egime of thugs as yet another instrument for mocking the international community. As Rami Khouri lucidly put it in the Guardian,

Assad's track record since April 2011 has been consistent and unambiguous: strike hard to punish demonstrators and deter their supporters, and engage in any available diplomatic process only as a secondary track.

Replace the "demonstrators" and "supporters" with "Bosnians" and "Croats," and Assad with Slobodan Milosevich and Radovan Karadjic; put Russia in the background, Israel instead of Greece in the neighborhood, and there you have brutal history repeated almost by the letter.

Game of bloodshed restaged, with same sort of helpless powers in the audience.

Yet, the deadline is a deadline. If Damascus continues to play on time with a clear disregard to it, it will have to have consequences. But what? Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's mention of a "new phase," while he is on an official visit in China, is insufficient to give any hints of that.

But it is apparent that Ankara noted, and reacted toughly against, the Monday's shooting across the border into its territory, leaving no doubt that it sees it as an act of aggression. Add to it the fact that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu cut on Tuesday short his visit to China, and we are all in the midst of the escalation, surrounded by ambiguities.

Few people, if anybody, trust Assad in a credible, convincing manner will comply with the UN plan. Then, what? This places Turkey in the midst of the puzzle; a puzzle that thickens.

Can Turkey take the lead by "new steps"? From the Western distances it looks rather easy to conclude that a powerful NATO ally could and should. But it is certainly much more complicated than it looks.

The recent escalation of the conflict, the influx of thousands of refugees and the tense military build-up at the 910-km-long border, started to bring up the surface the sectarian and ethnic divides of the Turkish territory, just as it has done in Lebanon.

Although the majority in Turkey clearly detests what has been done by the Baathists against the mainly Sunni, civilian opposition in Syria, many within the Alawite segment here (some 15 % of the population) do not hide its anxiety -- not to mention, sympathies -- for the Nusayri-based regime. These sentiments reflect upon and influence the local bases of the main-opposition CHP, as well as far-left parties, many of which have Alawites or Turks whose ideologies have not been afar from that of the Baathism.

Another major concern which withholds Ankara from acting on its own is the Kurds. Although a little more than half of Turkey's 13-14 million Kurds support AKP, the rest are staunchly behind BDP, and the PKK. The recent data seems to strengthen the presumption that the PKK -- whose higher echelons up to 40 % contain Syrian Kurds sympathetic to Assad -- would enter in on the side of Baathist forces, to stir up havoc in Kurdish parts of Syria, whipping up violence against the Turkish side, dragging Turkey in.

But, what if Syrian forces repeat what they did yesterday, to confirm Ankara's perception that its territory is subjected to an aggression? Again, if the common sense prevails in Ankara -- as it has done so far -- such an act will have to be brought to the tables of NATO, evoking its charter.

Turkey will not, and should not, be pushed or left to act unilaterally; unless the West wants the entire region to tumble into hell. Turkey "encouraged" alone as a "fizer" equals the entire West jumping into the abyss with it altogether. It may give all Iran and Israel need to unleash hostilities against each other.

Remains what Rami Khouri and some other keen observers suggest: while not leaving diplomacy aside, arming intensely the opposition, for the arguments of self-defence. I hesitantly agree with Khouri: it is not a desirable option, but an only one. But only if Assad continues to massacre and drives people to exile.

Why? Because, once you get to the stage of sytematically arming, you face big risks.

As put by Safa Hussein, a general who is a member of Iraq's National Security Council, in Lebanon's Daily Star:

A divided Syria would become an arena for an Iranian-Saudi struggle (reflecting Shiite-Sunni tensions). Syria would slide to the edge of civil war as Iraq did in the period between 2004 and 2007. But with no decisive third-party forces in the country as was the case in Iraq, escalation to full-scale civil war similar to Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s seems very probable. The main side effect of such a scenario is that the majority of the rebels would become increasingly radical, allowing Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups to gain a foothold in Syria. This in turn would determine the shape of post-Assad Syria... If extremists dominate the post-Assad government, or if Syria becomes a failed state, then the risk of a jihadist revival in this area threatening the stability of Iraq would be very real.

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