Turkish soldiers and tanks are pictured in a village on the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep province, Turkey January 22, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal
CAIRO – 24 January 2018: Two Turkish soldiers were reportedly killed in clashes in the Kilis province near Syria’s Afrin region, according to the Turkish Armed Forces statement on Tuesday.
On Saturday, Turkey launched a military operation against a U.S.-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in Syria’s Afrin region. The Turkish regime justified the military operation, saying that its operation is “legitimate self defense” against YPG militia camps in Afrin.
World powers can never unite on one principle in the political sphere. Therefore, the military operation carried out by the Turkish army in Syria’s Afrin region is also a question up for debate. Some consider it a military intervention into Syria which deems a Turkish invasion, while other powers justify it as a matter of death or life to return millions of Syrian refugees back to Syria after establishing a safe area for them in northern Syria.
Turkey’s Olive Branch Operation
On January 13, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed his intention to crush Kurdish militia forces in the Afrin region inside Syria, which is under the control of the YPG, following a military operation by Turkish forces in Idlib province three months ago after an agreement with Russia and Iran to reduce fighting between pro-Syrian government forces and militants.
Ankara considers the YPG as a terrorist organization that seeks to establish an independent Kurdish state on the Turkish-Syrian border, which threatens the sovereignty of the Turkish republic.
Therefore, there are two main reasons for the Turkish military operation, called “Olive Branch Operation”, according to the Turkish leadership. The first is the success of the Turkish attack with support of its Iranian and Russian allies on the Idlib province.
The second is the circulated news reports about America’s intention to create a Kurdish army in the north and east of Syria. These two reasons reflect how deep the dispute is between Ankara one hand, and Moscow and Washington on the other.
The Russian stance:
Russia has announced that the main task of its forces in 2018 is to eliminate al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusrah Front. Russia has long waited for Turkey to take charge of this task to "reduce tension" in the province of Idlib.
However, Moscow lingered and waited for a green light from its two partners in the Astana talks, Ankara and Tehran, to end the "the Kurdish administration" in Afrin. The dispute and uncertainty between Moscow and Ankara were not only aroused by the good relationship between Moscow and the Kurds, but by the deployment of Russian operatives in Afrin and its villages when pro-Turkish forces tried to move towards the city.
This is the main obstacle of the Ankara-Moscow relationship and not the stance of the U.S., which does not have a military presence in this region.
The Turkish military operation in Afrin proves that Russian President Vladimir Putin has failed to build a good relationship between the two rivals, Turkey and the Kurds. Russia is keen to rescue the Sochi conference, as well as save Afrin.
Turkish officials have expressed their unwillingness to adopt the outcome of the first round of the Astana Conference. On the other hand, Moscow shows keenness on the role of Ankara in persuading opposition factions to attend the next sessions of the conference. As the date for the next round of talks is approaching, opposition voices are increasing.
The "Afrin Operation" adds a picture to the new strategic scene in Syria. It is an almost complete scene after President Donald Trump's administration revealed its strategy in the Levant and started steps to implement it.
The U.S. stance:
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson revealed that the presence of his country in Syria has five goals; atop of them is ending Iran's influence and reaching a political solution under the auspices of the United Nations (based on resolution 2254) that leads to the departure of President Bashar al-Assad.
Tillerson urged Moscow to fulfill its obligations and to put pressure on Syria to engage in the Geneva negotiations. To interpret this strategy, which has become quite clear, a five-way meeting was held a few days ago, including representatives of the U.S., France, Britain, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, to study draft constitutional reforms and to restrict Syrian institutions. This would be a substitute for a "false peace" that Moscow is preparing for.
Russia is facing a major test in the "Afrin Operation" to salvage its renewed relations with Turkey. It is a test accompanied by another test. Iran will find itself, like Turkey today, obliged to take into account its Russian partner for the need for a major power in the Security Council that finally announced that it will work to protect the nuclear agreement, with recognizing that a new U.S. course for settlement might push the Kremlin to hold on to Iran's role on the ground, though temporarily.
Afrin Operation is a Turkish invasion
Egypt, France and the U.S. have expressed their condemnation and rejection of the Turkish military operation in Syria's Afrin region, describing it as a serious threat to Syria's sovereignty.
On Sunday, Egypt’s foreign ministry issued a statement saying that “the operation puts hurdles before efforts aimed at reaching a political solution to the Syrian crisis and measures to combat terrorism.”
Egypt reiterated its rejection of all military solutions which only increase the sufferings of the Syrian people and called on all the Syrian people to be involved in serious talks with maintaining the sovereignty and unity of their country.
Upon a request from the French foreign ministry, the United Nations Security Council held talks about the situation in Syria on Monday. “France had called for an emergency meeting of the Security Council over Syria following a Turkish incursion into northern Syria's Afrin province,” stressed French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on his Twitter feed on Sunday.
Objectives of the Turkish military invasion
In order to understand the objectives and dimensions of the Turkish operation in the Syrian north, it is necessary to adopt a broad and deep analytical approach to the policies and attitudes adopted by Turkey towards the Syrian crisis during the past six years.
This analysis must be based on the various strategic options adopted by President Erdogan to face all stages and developments witnessed by the Syrian crisis over the past six years. Observers would never be surprised if these options are considered to be vague and negative, with the exception of the hostility to Assad's regime and calling for his departure, as well as refusing to recognize any role of the Syrian Kurds and accusing them of terrorism.
At the beginning of the Syrian crisis, Turkey supported the Syrian people by advising President Assad to adopt fundamental reforms of the regime, and then by accepting the Free Syrian Army (FSA) on its soil and in the areas adjacent to its borders, and by welcoming hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and encouraging several Syrian opposition groups.
However, Turkey soon began adopting contradictory options in order to confront the complexities of the international and regional situation in addition to the emergence and spread of jihadist and terrorist groups in large parts of Syria and Iraq after the U.S. relied on the Kurdish People's Protection forces as an ally in the fight against ISIS after the battle of Kobani.
In these dramatic transformations, the Turkish stances and choices have changed, and Turkish reactions have been marked by contradictions, both in terms of relations with Russia, the United States, Iran or its relations with ISIS or Nusrah Front. Turkey has been accused of passing thousands of terrorists, weapons and illegal oil trade across its territory in favor of ISIS.
It can be concluded that Turkey's attitude towards the Syrian crisis was similar to a "Greek" drama full of dramatic and painful surprises, which could be seen as a realistic result of Erdogan's attempts to reformulate and direct Turkey's internal and external policy, as "the new sultan" of Turkey and the Levant.
Turkey is now only a few steps away from the most bloody and dangerous scene of this "Greek drama", which has created itself. The only "possible" savior from falling into this dangerous military adventure would be the United States, through working on a "miracle" to reconcile Turkey's security concerns with the Kurds' demands of their rights and identity.
There will be serious consequences as a result of its bias toward one team or the other. The eruption of war in Afrin will not be in its interest, as it will eventually lead to a frightening "nightmare" for Washington, Ankara and the Kurds. If the crisis is not overcome in a few days or hours before the attack begins, the real winners will be Russia, the Syrian regime and Iran.