Calls for Syria action grow, but West must beware Turkey agenda

Oct 5, 2012

Cross-border mortar attack will boost demands for Nato military intervention, can the West trust Turkey?

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THE UN Security Council has condemned the mortar attack – apparently carried out by Syrian government troops – which killed a woman and her four children in the Turkish border town of Akcakale this week.

The attack prompted the Turkish army to retaliate with artillery fire which killed several Syrian soldiers. The Turkish parliament later approved military action inside Syria for a period of one year.

The UN Security Council statement said the mortar attack "highlighted the grave impact the crisis in Syria has on the security of its neighbours and on regional peace and stability".

It demanded that "such violations of international law stop immediately and are not repeated".

Commentators are divided over Turkey’s motivations, with some saying it and Nato have been too restrained for too long and others warning that the West must be careful not to be an accomplice in Ankara’s regional machinations.

“How much longer can the US, Nato, the UN security council, the EU and major non-western actors such as Russia and China keep the expanding Syrian crisis at arm's length, variously denouncing and abetting the Assad regime, squabbling between themselves, but doing next to nothing?” asks Simon Tisdall in The Guardian.

Tisdall notes that pressure for intervention is growing among Arab states and in Washington. The most likely action would be a Nato no-fly zone, he says.

Tisdall quotes Alon Ben-Meir of New York University's Center for Global Affairs, who says Turkey now “realises that everybody is intervening. Iran is intervening by sending military advisors. Russia is intervening by sending weapons on a regular basis. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are intervening by sending money and some weapons. And the United States is intervening by sending communications gear and some weapons and money indirectly.” Ben-Meir believes Turkey and the US will act after the American presidential election.

But The Daily Telegraph’s Con Coughlin says “Nato leaders should take care not to involve themselves in a conflict that only helps to further the Turkish leader’s Islamist agenda”.

The government of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is “increasingly authoritarian”, jailing politicians and journalists critical of his policies, he says.

Before Syria descended into civil war, Erdogan’s “main focus” was developing ties with Iran. That changed “only after it became clear that he could no longer tolerate the survival of the Assad regime”, which is Iran’s main ally.

Now, Erdogan has turned to Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood benefited from the revolution against Mubarak. “The Turkish leader would be happy to see the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria emerge as the eventual victors of the crisis,” says Coughlin. This “would lead to the establishment of a network of Islamist governments – a ‘Sunni arc’ from the shores of North Africa to those of the eastern Mediterranean.

“It is highly questionable whether such an outcome would benefit Western interests.”

But in the Independent, Adrian Hamilton suggests that Turkey might have concerns closer to home. “Syria has neither the means nor the interest in taking on Turkey at this moment. It is terrified of it… neither does Turkey want war,” he writes.

“Of far greater concern to Turkey is the Kurdish dimension.” Hamilton explains that regional instability has encouraged the “extremist” PKK movement to launch a succession of attacks on Turkey.

“Ankara’s fear now must be that the two million Kurds in Syria, who have risen up against Damascus and control a large part of Kurdish territory within Syria which they are operating as a separate entity, will team up with other armed Kurdish groups in Iraq.”

Hamilton notes these fears might be exaggerated, but concludes: “It won’t be national conflicts which will determine the future but the internal ones.”

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