Attacking Syria Could Damage Turkey's Standing in Region

Article Summary
A Turkish-Syrian war would likely be short, but it could damage Turkey’s overall position in the region, writes Okan Murderrisoglu. He says war could hurt Turkey’s economy, reduce its soft power and even extend the political life of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

We are in the ruling party's lobby in the Grand National Assembly. Phones ring incessantly with calls from Adana, Gaziantep, Kilis, Osmaniye and Sanliurfa (Turkish provinces close to the border with Syria). The MPs are trying to respond to questions from their constituency while simultaneously attempting to learn the background of the plane crisis themselves.

The region’s business interests are worried. They say, “Please, no conflicts. Our business will stop.” This type of telephone traffic is shaping the broad outlines of Ankara’s response to the Assad regime’s aggression. Economic implications, terror risks, the possibility of clashes with Muslim countries, implications for the balance in the Middle East, Turkey’s regional image and the calculations of supportive countries are all agenda items under discussion.

In the last 72 hours, strategic analysis has been ongoing in the offices of the chief of staff and the prime minister. They are even evaluating the option of using precision strikes to destroy the missile battery that shot down the unarmed and unidentified Turkish reconnaissance plane. However, the concesus is not to go after the one who pulled the trigger, but whoever asked him to do so. That requires a cool-headed assessment, not an impulsive reaction. The prevailing view is: “Let’s disrupt Assad’s game plan. We must prepare for retaliation, but we will decide the place, time and method for it.”

The fact is, a war between Turkey and Syria will probably be short. However, its effects would last for years.

Some of the potential effects of a Turkey-Syrian war:

  • Ankara’s soft-power policy would waver.
  • The perception of Turkey as a source of inspiration in Arab Spring-effected countries would be reversed.
  • The political life of Bashar al-Assad may be prolonged.
  • Attention would be diverted from the massacres in Syria to the country’s tension with Turkey.
  • The eastern Mediterranean would heat up. The Cypriot Greek administration that is exploring for natural gas off Cyprus with Israel will be able to justify its claim that Turkey prefers the use of force.
  • The Shiite axis of Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, which is already upset with the NATO radar base in Kurecik, would be further consolidated.
  • Russia, which has lost in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya since the end of the Cold War and now wants to control the warm seas, could support Assad even more.
  • Russia could expand its Latakia base, which it uses to monitor the US Air Force Incirlik base in Turkey, Cyprus and the energy corridors, further entrenching itself in the region.
  • Israel would maintain the status quo until it finds a puppet regime that could replace Assad.

Of course, there are also domestic consequences:

  • In these days of intense struggle against terror, the attention of our 2nd Army could shift from the border with Iraq to Syria.
  • Turkey’s operational capability against terrorist centers could be negatively affected.
  • Military expenditures would be given priority, which may require forfeiting other investments.
  • In the first phase, starting from our provinces on the Syria border, commerce could be disrupted.
  • Tourism operators who are marketing the Turkish "brand” could revise their package tours.
  • Depending on the level of uncertainty, economic growth could slow down.

The conclusion:

  1. Yes, we can hit Syria, but the wound would be deep and it would require a long time to heal.
  2. Relations with Muslim countries and the Arab world would be harmed.
  3. Turkish-Russian relations would be entirely mortgaged by Syria.
  4. The US administration, which will be completely engrossed with the upcoming presidential elections, would issue tough statements but nothing else.
  5. NATO, which still can’t pay the bill for Libya, will not open a front against Syria. They could also adopt an ambivalent position toward Turkey.

In a nutshell, a strong state would not let the culprit get away unpunished. However, it would wait for the right moment to strike.

Found in: turkish relations with arab world, turkish-syrian crisis, reprisals against syria, nato, assad regime, assad

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