Print        

A Glance at Future Prospect of Turkey’s Policies in Syria

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Reza Solat
Ph.D. in International Relations and Expert on Turkey Issues

In addition to improvement in Turkey’s relations with Israel and Russia during recent weeks, changes have been made at Turkey’s Foreign Ministry as well. On the other hand, the power of Syrian Kurds in areas under their control along Turkey’s southern borders has undergone developments and as a result of these developments and changes, many analysts have been speculating that Turkey’s policy toward Syria is going to change and argue that such changes can have a great effect on the future outlook of the war in Syria. From my viewpoint, following points should be considered in this regard:

1. Following resignation of the country’s former prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey is trying to adapt itself to tangible realities in the region, including the fact that despite all measures aimed at his downfall, Syrian President Bashar Assad is still in power. The rise of Daesh has also caused Turkey’s allies to shift their focus from trying to change the Syrian government. Therefore, by following up on its old plan to bring about regime change in Syria, Turkey has been moving toward increasing isolation while its plan has been rendered futile through unbridled support offered to Syrian government by Moscow and Tehran. On the other hand, as time goes by, management of the Kurdish issue inside Syria has turned into a vital matter for the Turkish government. The Syrian Kurds and their representative, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), have been successful in attracting the attention and support of international community through their successful fight against Daesh. PYD has increased its power and influence by expanding regions under its control in northern part of Syria. From the viewpoint of the government of Turkey, however, the PYD is a branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is currently in the midst of a violent fight against the government in Ankara. Therefore, foreign policy equations of Ankara have changed and its priority has shifted from changing the Syrian government to containing the PYD. When it comes to this issue, Ankara and Damascus share a similar viewpoint.

2. The new foreign policy approach adopted by the new Turkish government and its new strategy for turning enemies into neutral parties and neutral parties into friends, whose goal is to reduce foreign policy costs for the government of Binali Yildirim, have already shown themselves in the change in Ankara’s relations with Tel Aviv and Moscow. Turkey is approaching a strategic juncture which is sure to force Ankara to forge a strategic balance in its policy on Syria and this strategic balance has various aspects.

It seems that not only Turkey’s policy toward Syria, but the entire foreign policy of Turkey is going to change. In other words, this change is indicative of a comprehensive and structural alteration in Turkey’s foreign policy, which includes Syria among other issues.

The coming to office of a new government in Ankara has laid the foundation for such a development and has turned into a symbol of revision in Turkey’s foreign policy. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in the first session of his cabinet that “we will add to our friends and reduce our enemies.”

There is also another aspect, which is in fact, Ankara’s strongest motivation to bring about such a change in its foreign policy approach. The effort made by the Kurdish PYD party to establish a federation in the northern part of Syria has become so real and objective that it has naturally created a major security concern for Ankara. The United States and many European countries support the PYD and this has boosted the international prestige of this group. Just to the same extent that it is a threat to Assad, the increasing power of the PYD is also considered as a threat to Turkey. It is, therefore, possible that this common threat would finally lead to the establishment of an unwanted and heterogeneous alliance between Assad’s government and Turkey.

3. Another important factor in Turkey’s approach to Syria is the terrorist attacks carried out by Daesh and the PKK on Turkey’s soil, which prove how real is the threat posed by these groups to Turkey, and this has caused Ankara to see itself in a joint fight with Daesh and Kurds. Of course, it is possible for Turkey to somehow change the rules of the game as a result of its recent agreements with Israel and Russia, but due to five years of conflict with groups present in Syria, it does not seem that Ankara would change its main strategy, though the fight with groups in Syria has had no benefit for Turkey so far. In the new alliance that will take shape among Ankara, Moscow and Tel Aviv, their main focus will be on Daesh and the PKK and they will also try to open their way into the Middle East, because the fall of Iraq’s former dictator, Saddam Hussein, and the war in Syria have caused Turkey to face many problems for getting access to markets in regional Arab countries.

4. There are two strategic alliances on the ground in Syria: Iran, Syria, Iraq and Russia (the resistance axis), on the one hand, and the axis consisting of Saudi Arabia and Israel (the Arab – Hebrew axis), on the other hand. In my opinion, the main trouble for Turkey would be how to regulate its strategies with regard to these two axes in Syria. How would be the influence of the recent agreement between Ankara and Tel Aviv on their relations with Riyadh? Or what strategy would be possibly followed by Moscow? Apart from these issues, another question is what strategies would be adopted by Turkey with regard to Iran and Egypt? In fact, some sort of regional cooperation whose priority is regional arrangements is in the offing and the way these alliances are organized would set the rules of Turkey’s game in Syria. On the other hand, I believe that there are two issues, which are more important to Turkey than the fate of Bashar Assad:

a. Daesh and the PKK, and

b. Taking threats away from the Mediterranean and facilitating Turkey’s access to the Middle East by jumping over Syria and Iraq as goalkeeper to open Turkey’s access to the regional Arab market. In fact, the riddle of Bashar Assad is not the main priority for Turkey at the time being.

Key WordsTurkey, Policies, Syria, Israel, Russia, Syrian Kurds, Ahmet Davutoglu, Bashar Assad, Democratic Union Party (PYD), Daesh, Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Binali Yildirim, Middle East, Iran, Resistance Axis, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Priority, Solat

More By Reza Solat:

*Top Priorities of Turkey’s New Prime Minister: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Top-Priorities-of-Turkey-s-New-Prime-Minister.htm

*Assessment of Turkish Prime Minister’s Recent Iran Visit: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Assessment-of-Turkish-Prime-Minister-s-Recent-Iran-Visit.htm

*Assessment of Parliamentary Elections in Turkey: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Assessment-of-Parliamentary-Elections-in-Turkey.htm

*Photo Credit: EA WorldView

طراحی و توسعه آگاه‌سیستم