Assad's Cold War of Revenge On Turkey

With the fall of Qusair and anti-government protests in Turkey, forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad look to regain traction along the northern border with Turkey.

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syrian, reyhanli, qusair, assad, aleppo, alawites

Jun 12, 2013

The interference by the Lebanese Hezbollah — which is consecrating all of its military and organizational experience in the fight between the regime army and Syrian opposition forces in Qusair and other regions — has started to tip the balance of the war in favor of the Syrian regime. This is despite the European decision — backed by the United States — to lift the ban on the export of arms to the Syrian opposition.

Victories on the ground by the Syrian regime over the armed opposition in the country’s western regions, bordering northeastern Lebanon's Sunni majority regions, encouraged Assad’s forces backed by Hezbollah fighters to progress toward Aleppo. The latter is the economic capital of Syria and is renowned for  its textile factories — which were shut down and transported to Turkey — according to sources affiliated with the Syrian regime.

Although Aleppo has not been entirely taken over by the armed opposition, large parts of the city and its countryside are controlled by Free Syrian Army (FSA) battalions and groups allied with the FSA. The opposition was counting on making Aleppo — the Benghazi of Syria — its major stronghold from which it would liberate Damascus, passing through the cities of Hama and Homs, thus putting an end to the Assad regime. Yet, the regime received a strong boost when Hezbollah forces entered Syria to support it and a sweeping victory was achieved in Qusair, despite the opposition’s fierce resistance.

The Assad regime is now engaging in the battle of Aleppo in the north, not far from the Turkish border. The opposition in Daraa (in the south of Syria) dealt heavy blows to the regime forces, as was the case in Raqqa (in the northwest), while it is worth mentioning that the battle in Aleppo aims at taking revenge against Turkey and in particular against Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey — which had explicitly stressed the need for the Assad regime to go, supported the Syrian opposition, received generals and soldiers defecting from the Syrian army and even helped the opposition take over Syrian border crossings with Turkey — is now suffering from internal unrest and dealing with calls to overthrow Erdogan.

These developments are an opportunity for the Assad regime to seek vengeance on Erdogan, just as it did at the beginning of this year by receiving the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). The CHP is the largest opposition party in Turkey, and includes in its ranks the largest proportion of [Turkey’s] Alawites. Assad belongs to the Alawite sect, and it is estimated that there are between 3 million and 20 million Alawites in Turkey.

The Assad regime took advantage of its strong ties with the Alawite sect in Turkey in order to incite it against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and push [Alawites] to call for the overthrow of Erdogan. This is what pushed Erdogan, just days before the Taksim Square protests erupted, to show a photo of the person accused of the bombings in Reyhanli in southern Turkey participating in the meeting held by Assad with the head of the CHP. This was implicitly accusing the largest Turkish opposition party of being involved in the Reyhanli bombings, while Turkey had previously accused the Syrian intelligence services of being behind the attacks.

Further, Syria’s revenge against Turkey also aims at regaining control of all border crossings from the hands of the armed opposition, especially after Assad warned that foreign intervention in Syria’s internal affairs could trigger a raging war that would embroil the whole region. Moreover, it is not unlikely that Assad could encourage officers in the Turkish army to declare rebellion against Erdogan. In this context, the website of Al-Mayadeen, a pro-Hezbollah satellite channel, posted a photo of officers saying they defected from the Turkish army. It is worth mentioning that Syria did not forget its border dispute with Turkey over the Iskenderun Brigade, which was annexed to Turkey following a referendum during the French Mandate over Syria.

What is happening now between Damascus and Ankara is a cold war in which the conflicting parties rely on incitement and support the opposition of the other party. Hezbollah’s involvement in the fighting in Syria could incite Sunni jihadists in Lebanon to engage in a war against Hezbollah on Lebanese territory, which means that the Syrian war’s repercussions will affect Lebanon in the first place, then Iraq and perhaps also Jordan. Meanwhile, Israel will not be immune to the waves of political and military turmoil in the region.

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More from  Mustafa Daleh