How does Ankara view intervention in Syria and the creation of a buffer zone along the border? Turkey had refused to take part in operational activities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Is this reluctance about to change in the case of Syria?
I posed these two questions to a influential senior decisionmaker who didn’t want his name to be used but had no objection to being quoted.
He first tackled the “buffer zone” question, saying that a buffer zone along the 877-kilometer border with Syria was not feasible. “A buffer zone means sending your soldiers into the territory of another country. We have never favored military intervention with our neighbors.”
As for intervention, he said: “We do not favor intervention in Syria. This was also the case in Libya. In any event, an intervention in Syria is not probable without a resolution from the Security Council.”
When asked about Ankara’s position should the Security Council come out with such a decision, his views were predictable. “Our government hasn’t changed its stance. Turkey did not take part in the operational forces in Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya. In Afghanistan, we stay out of combat. In Iraq, we did not even allow troops to transit through our territory. This was our position in Libya. The attitude in Syria will not be any different.”
Intervening with the Regime
Since 1923, Turkey has never followed an active policy of regime change toward its neighbors. Even in the most egregious cases, Turkey has made no attempt to change the regime in any neighboring countries. So why, I asked, are we so active with regard Syria? His response was enlightening: “We are not saying ‘the regime has to change.’ We want the bloodshed to stop, [and that] the Syrian regime must not oppress its people. We are saying ‘it won’t work with Assad after this.’ Syria will find its own solution.”
I reminded him that Turkey was hosting the Istanbul gathering of the Syrian opposition. He replied, “This can be criticized. We are not stopping them but we are also not guiding them. The Syrian opposition is determining its own future.”
Just like the prime minister, this official does not expect Assad to comply with Kofi Annan’s plan.
Spring Came too Early
He said Assad isn’t a typical dictator and wondered why he had reached this point, saying, “He is Western educated, and he and his wife have modern profiles. Up until two to three years ago, he wanted Syria to become like Turkey. If he had had three to five more years, he could have done it. But the Arab Spring came too early.”
He does not expect the "Friends" Conference to produce a very important decision, but that it could mark a step toward uniting and strengthening the opposition. However, the really crucial decisions may rest in the hands of the UN: “The critical factor is Russia and China. There can be no durable solution in Syria without a Security Council Resolution.”
This is the future position of Turkey on the Syrian issue.