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The Turks are back

Almost a century after the Turks evacuated the Arab Middle East at the end of World War I, they are back. Not just with bombing or artillery fire, but a full-scale, old-fashioned invasion of Syria. This, just after dismissing or jailing a very large number of soldiers, sailors and airmen and about a third of the active duty general officers, all accused of having supported the recent failed coup.

What can Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan be trying to accomplish with this military action? Speculation swirls around the following possibilities:

  • Demonstrating that Turkey is still relevant in the region and that its army can still function.
  • Forcing the Kurds to withdraw east of the Euphrates.
  • Trying to offset the fading Iranian presence and the growing Russian presence on Assad’s side with a formidable force opposing Assad.
  • Making sure that the power vacuum created by the US is partially filled by Turkey.
  • Or simply doing what he claims to be doing, protecting the Turkish frontier from incursions from any source on the Syrian side (in this case, Islamic State).

There may be some elements of all these motivations behind the action, but the Kurdish explanation may well be paramount. Nevertheless, forcing the Kurds back over the Euphrates is a tacit acknowledgement that their presence east of the Euphrates is legitimate. As a result, the Turkish invasion may be seen in future as the definitive legitimization of a Syrian Kurdish autonomous region in north-eastern corner of the country.

The likely result of the Turkish action will be to exacerbate the Balkanization of Syria, with Assad controlling the coast and parts of the west of the country, the Kurds controlling the north-east and a series of Sunni groups contesting the center.

And what about Israel? Turkey’s armed incursion into Syria does not directly affect Israel, which in any case, has just ratified an agreement with that country to normalize relations. Maybe, just maybe, Jerusalem might be able to convince Ankara (in the light of their new improved relationship), to attack Hezbollah in Syria. After all, Hezbollah has been fighting for years on Assad’s side. Its definitive defeat would greatly weaken the Assad regime and help to force the Russians and Iranians to make some sort of deal whereby the Alawite regime would survive but without Assad. And Israel’s most dangerous current enemy would be greatly weakened.

Just a thought.

This article was originally published by Globes.