By GHASSAN KADI*
What started as a “War On Syria”, allowed to grow and fester unabated, fueled and sponsored by eighty three nations spearheaded by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel and NATO and all pro-NATO nations, is undoubtedly coming to a head.
Geneva III seems dead in the water, just like Geneva I and II were. This time however, Syria and its allies are calling the shots, and they are playing the cat-and-mouse game, and why not? After all, the ball is in their court and it wasn’t easy coming. It’s the spoil of blood and sacrifice.
That said, whichever way one looks at what I call the “War On Syria” or truly believe it is a revolution and choose to call it the “Syrian Revolution” or any other name for that matter, recent events are indicating a coming to head; one way or the other.
The time of stalemates has long gone. If anything, the stalemates were the result of a series of stagnant conditions on the battlefield which didn’t allow for victors or losers to emerge except in certain specific areas, but as the Syrian Army is now making sweeping advances in many territories and on many fronts under the aerial support of Russia, the stalemate is no longer.
Any whichever way one looks at the recent developments in Syria, favourably, unfavourably, or indifferently, one has to be able to see that there are some serious changes on the horizon. Those changes will eventually culminate into new directions and the coming to head of an outcome cannot be too far away.
Some of the head figures that were involved in the original orchestration of the “War On Syria” have already faced their own coming to head and came down crashing. Saudi Prince Bandar Bin Sultan was perhaps the most infamous “victim”. Few conspirers throughout history have fallen on their own swords in a more humiliating manner than the way he was demoted from a potential crown prince and king to a virtual nobody.
The outcome that has thus far been achieved by the collaboration of the aerial Russian might with the Syrian Army on the ground is tightening the noose on Erdogan and giving him a few bitter options. The Saudis are not in a much better situation, but Saudi Arabia does not have common borders with Syria and Saudi Arabia does not have Kurds.
Now that Erdogan has finally shown his true colours to the Kurds and spewed his hatred upon them in Syria, Iraq and within Turkey itself, he can no longer rewind the clock and restore his pre-“War On Syria” diplomacy status with them.
Erdogan must be shuffling his cards, contemplating different options and weighing out their risks. Without reaching some agreement with Russia, he cannot save face. But his window for diplomacy with Russia has been deadlocked and Russia will not sit at a negotiating table with him, not after he shot down the Su-24 and had his thugs kill the pilot as he parachuted. Realistically, he cannot emerge with any win, modest and insignificant as it might be, without some military action. But as his biggest military gamble in Syria was beginning to fail even before Russia intervened, what hope of military gain does he have now with Russia on Syrian soil and in her skies?
But if he sits back and allows Syria to win, among other things, he will be accepting to face serious and grave domestic repercussions. As a matter of fact, those repercussions have already started, and a quick look at Diyarbakir and its surrounds says it all.
The only other option Erdogan has is to have a military showdown with Russia, but to do this, he needs help.
The Saudis have expressed willingness to send troops into Syria to fight alongside the USA against Daesh (ISIS), wink wink. We all know what this means. This is their way of saying that they intend to use Turkey as a route and work alongside Turkish troops in attacking Syria. Ironically however, Saudi Arabia, that has a military budget higher than that of Russia, has not yet been even able to score a military win in Yemen, and probably never will. The recent announcement about sending troops into Syria sounds like a practical joke. That said, Erdogan does not need the Saudi Army. The Turkish Army has enough muscle power of its own, but not anywhere near strong enough to engage with Russia, and any Saudi involvement will probably be tokenistic. Furthermore, the Saudis might have been keen to fight against Syria, but they will not engage in battle against Russia.
Turkey will never be able to have a war with Russia unaided, but all indications are that it is picking on a fight with the Big Bear in the hope the NATO will support it. The ally Erdogan is counting on is NATO not Saudi Arabia, and this is not such a great revelation. Erdogan has been playing the NATO card long before the downing of the Su-24 last November.
If Turkey ever needed to be a NATO member, the reason was always Russia. The animosity between the two nations is centuries old and the dispute was not only over territory, but also religious. After all. The Ottomans have invaded the entire region of Orthodoxy, decimated the Byzantine Empire, and only Russia was able to spare herself from their iron fist rule.” But as fate took a turn and the Ottoman Empire was no longer and Russia herself became a superpower, when NATO was founded in 1949, Turkey had no reason at all to join it other than fear of the USSR.
For five years now, the enemies of Syria have been pushing their luck trying to engage the USA and NATO directly in fighting the Syrian Army but to no avail. The so-called East Ghouta chemical attack massacre was framed on the Syrian Army in a desperate attempt to get a UNSC resolution akin to the one made against the government of Libya a couple of years earlier, but this time Russia vetoed the decision.
But Erdogan never gave up trying to engage Uncle Sam. When he ordered his troops to down the Su-24, it was clear that this was yet another attempt to drag NATO into an intervention that it does not need and a UNSC resolution, but his plea seemed to have gone to deaf ears. The extra-ordinary NATO meeting that Erdogan immediately requested following the incident, clearly stated that Turkey and Russia should work together to settle their problems. That was NATO’s clear message to Turkey to leave NATO out of it.
But Turkey did not stop its attempts to pick on a fight with Russia. A few days ago, unoccupied Syrian towns close to Turkish borders were bombed as Turkey was apparently providing a cover for retreating Jihadists. As a matter of fact, the news today is reporting Russian awareness of a Turkish preparation for sending troops into Syria. Russia is warning, and Erdogan is definitely stirring the pot unabated.
With or without NATO’s support, it takes a madman to aim for war with Russia, but Erdogan is now as mad as a cornered rabid dog. All of his actions, ever since the downing of the Su-24 are indicative of getting into a military confrontation with Russia. This is what he is aiming for. A war of this nature has the potential to develop into a global war and a multitude of regional wars that will not only include the super powers, but also regional powers. Millions of lives can be lost, and no human in his/her right mind would wish it to happen. But how can one put a harness on a madman and stop him in his tracks?
Erdogan is taking an enormous and dangerous gamble here, not only in deliberately trying to engage with a superpower, but also in hoping that NATO will come to its supposed end of the bargain.
If a limited conflict develops between Turkey and Russia, NATO will probably weigh in, but the question is this, if a full scale war does break out between Russia and Turkey, will NATO enter the theater to protect Erdogan’s hide? No one knows, but a quick guess says unlikely.
Cynics and critics might say that NATO, and the USA in particular, will never let go of their regional interests in Turkey. This is true, but defending Erdogan and defending Turkey are two different things.
If faced between having to cut Erdogan loose to face his destiny or engaging in an all-out war with Russia, the USA and NATO might choose the former and sacrifice Erdogan personally. In fact, this would be a perfect scenario for a colour revolution, and what stops America from orchestrating one in Turkey? After all, they are the experts of turning against their allies.
A good look at the map of northern Syria and the recent advances of the Syrian Army clearly indicates that the western region of that border will soon be back into the hands of the Syrian Army, and soon could mean a few weeks. In a few weeks, if not probably less, the city of Aleppo will go back to the custody of the state and government of Syria. This will constitute a huge blow to Erdogan. Considering that the Turkish-Syrian border in the Hatay region is quite mountainous and difficult to penetrate militarily, once it goes back to Syrian hands, it will be virtually impossible for Turkey to take that it back. The eastern side of the border however is quite flat and any advancing troops will be sitting ducks for aerial attacks.
The other risk factor for Erdogan stems from the fact that during an election year, America is highly unlikely to commit itself to a new war, any new war, let alone a major war with Russia.
The fall of Erdogan on his head is bound to happen one way or the other, and the huge popularity he gained after reforming the economy is getting eroded gradually, and even though he won the last round of elections, if Turkey faces more domestic strife and gets dragged by its leader into a major war, not only the economic reforms will fall by the wayside and push turkey back to the economic abyss, but this will open the political doors to all possibilities, with or without a colour revolution.
As the clock is ticking however, and as forces loyal to Erdogan within Syria lose more territory and nerve, Erdogan’s need to gamble becomes more dire, and he finds himself pushed more and more into a corner, forced to play roulette, the Russian style.
*Ghassan Kadi, a native of Beirut, is an analyst of Middle East affairs. Visit Intibah and Ghassan Kadi’s website.