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Operation Euphrates Shield and Ankara’s Illusion

Monday, September 5, 2016

Ahmad Kazemi
Expert on Turkey Affairs

The recent measure taken by Ankara through direct military intervention in Syria followed by the occupation of the city of Jarabulus and attacks on the positions of the People's Protection Units have given rise to various analyses among political experts. There are two viewpoints about goals of this military intervention, which was met with serious protests from the government in Damascus and also violated accepted rules of international law. The first viewpoint is that this act of military aggression on the part of Ankara was the result of Turkey’s security concerns about the possibility of the establishment of a Kurdish entity or canton in north of Syria. Before the crisis flared up in Syria, the country’s Kurds lived in three separate regions in the northern part of Syria, that is, Afrin, Jazira and Kobani or Ayn al-Arab. The Syrian crisis, however, helped Kurds to make advances and partially attach these three regions through the US support. Later on, after Syrian Kurds recaptured the town of Manbij and moved toward Jarabulus close to border with Turkey, Ankara felt great concern. As a result, the Turkish army pushed Kurds back to the eastern shores of the Euphrates in order to change ethnic fabric of the region and also provide the ground for deployment of those Syrian opposition groups, which are in line with Turkey’s policies, such as Nour al-Din al-Zenki terrorist group and the Free Syrian Army, in these areas.

The second viewpoint, however, believes that Turkey’s measure to conquer the city of Jarabulus was just the first step of a scenario whose objective is to create a buffer zone and then a no-fly zone in northern Syria with the final goal of annexing part of the Syrian soil. This speculation was supported by the fact that Operation Euphrates Shield was launched on the anniversary of an operation by the Ottoman ruler, Sultan Yavuz Selim, in 1516 in which he conquered the Levant and parts of Egypt.

In fact, it seems that Turkey has been long waiting for an opportunity to create a buffer zone along its border with Syria, which would be 90 kilometers long and 50 kilometers wide. However, two major factors have prompted Ankara to speed up that plan. The first factor was the failed coup attempt in Turkey, which changed the atmosphere inside the country in favor of the ruling Justice and Development Party and stripped opposition parties such as the Republican People's Party and the Nationalist Movement Party of any ground to raise serious protests against the government.

The second factor it that it seems Turkey has been able through recent tactical maneuvers in its relations with Russia to somehow get the green light of the United States to introduce a no-fly zone in northern Syria. Ankara has, at least, got the US green light during a recent visit to Turkey by the US vice president, Joe Biden, to attack Kurds and push them toward the eastern banks of the Euphrates. In doing so, Ankara has been trying to instigate secessionist tendencies among Kurds in Syria and Iraq and put more pressure on governments in both Baghdad and Damascus. However, the fact that Daesh easily left Jarabulus without firing even a single shot and went toward Turkey and the cooperation between Turkey and Nour al-Din al-Zenki terrorist group (whose members recently beheaded a 12-year Syrian teenager) in addition to the fact that Turkey has opened its border to such terrorist groups, show that despite its proclaimed policies, Ankara has taken no practical steps against Daesh. In the meantime, the cooperation between the United States and Turkey and the bombardment of the Syrian city of Hasakah by the US-led military coalition showed how wrong Syrian Kurds are in putting their trust in Washington.

Although Operation Euphrates Shield has weighed heavily on optimistic analyses about Turkey changing its past position on Syria, the reality is that terrorist groups will have no place in future Syria and any investment by Ankara on these groups would be repetition of costly mistakes of the past five years.

Key WordsOperation Euphrates Shield, Turkey, Ankara, Illusion, People's Protection Units, Military Intervention, Syria, Afrin, Jazira, Kobani, Ayn al-Arab, Crisis, Kurds, Manbij, Free Syrian Army, No-fly Zone, Justice and Development Party, Republican People's Party, Nationalist Movement Party, US, Russia, Daesh, Kazemi

*Photo Credit: Strategic Culture Foundation

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