Turkish Escalation a Sign of Panic

After months of diplomatic pressure on the regime of Bashar al-Assad, Turkey has now adopted something closer to a conventional military strategy in a bid to force a power transfer in Damascus, writes Kadri Gursel. He argues that Ankara’s high-risk strategy could bring all-out war to Turkey if handled incorrectly.

al-monitor Turkey's Chief of General Staff Necdet Ozel (C) arrives at Oncupinar border outpost on the Turkish-Syrian border in Kilis province October 9, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Turkish Military/Handout.

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syrian civil war, syrian, military

Oct 16, 2012

Syria's decision-makers in Ankara are showing signs of panic in their words and deeds.

Disproportionate military retaliation against Syria, the interception of the Syrian plane and heavy military deployment along the border are all signs of Ankara’s efforts to get out of the Syrian impasse it walked into by making the wrong prognosis and the wrong choices.

Ankara is now pursuing a policy of military escalation and tension with Syria. Even if they manage this policy with the painstaking sensitivity of a surgeon, it is impossible to avoid the risks of a major war. 

Let’s leave the primitiveness of “we will enter Damascus in three hours” aside and ask whether Ankara really wants war. I don’t think it does, but it feels compelled to be ready for one.

Turkey has become a party to a civil war in a neighboring country and has dragged itself to threshold of war. The reason is Ankara’s failure in all its forecasts regarding Syria. Two of the worst misjudgments that have brought us to this dangerous point follow were: firstly, thinking that the Baath regime would collapse in a short time; secondly, seriously thinking that the Western alliance — preferably led by NATO — would intervene militarily.

The regime hasn’t collapsed and won’t tomorrow. The United States wouldn’t have intervened until the presidential elections, anyway, and now it is blatantly clear that they will not be coming after the elections either.

Nobody pushed Ankara to the Syrian front; it jumped there with its delusions. Now Ankara is way in front of everybody else, wide open to the risks and retaliation and so totally isolated with its pride that refuses to step back.

Can you imagine what kind of a nightmare it must be for those who bragged that Bashar al-Assad and his regime would collapse in weeks, only to realize that they will have to live him for another year?

With our missteps we are facing a fully-fledged enemy regime and its dedicated supporters that have encircled Turkey. To avoid having to live in this impasse any longer, Ankara’s choice was to exert heavy military pressure on Syria.

This, it thinks, will hasten the collapse of the regime. What we are seeing is an effort to bring down the Syrian regime and replace it with a Muslim Brotherhood-heavy rulership. This effort is not being exerted through an all-out war, but through mechanisms of war such as artillery fire, F-16 sorties, tank deployments and so forth.

This is a high-risk policy that requires an exceptionally resourceful military-civilian coordination and virtuoso maneuvering. Yet it is overly optimistic to expect those who have failed in most crisis-management cases to come up with ingenious crisis engineering this time around.

The optimum result Ankara can expect from this military-pressure policy is an earlier departure of the regime on one condition: to keep the “war of attrition” at a low intensity.

What will turn Ankara’s nightmare to a sweet dream would be suicidal counter-attack by the Baath army in Turkey, thus inviting NATO military intervention. In such a situation, our leaders will happily march to war.

The worst-case scenario will be if the military-pressure policy leads to real war under bumbling management, with Turkey identified as the aggressor, and NATO then deciding it will not get involved. This would mean the suicide of Turkey and its rulers.

Let’s make a note right here: If we are dragged into such a war, its sole cause will be incompetence.

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