This article was published in Arab News on October 13, 2019.
Isolated Turkey under mounting international pressure
The military operation Turkey launched to the east of Euphrates in Syria last week was first announced more than a year ago, but was delayed for several reasons. It has been dubbed “Operation Peace Spring” in the hope that it will become a source or a fountain of peace.
There is a quote attributed to several authors that says: “The first victim of a war is the truth.” Therefore, like all other wars, the whole truth cannot be expected in this war, whether it comes from the supporters of the operation or its opponents.
The Turkish government reconfirmed this rule by announcing that “those who sow the seeds of discordance in society and spread misleading information or those who would belittle the performance of the army will be subject to penal prosecution.” This has to be perceived as an instinctive self-defense measure. No nation would allow any move that may jeopardize the success of its army and Turkey is no exception.
Turkey put its plan into action after it lost hope that the US would genuinely cooperate to set up a safe zone in the northeast of Syria, or after it understood that the US perception of a safe zone was different from its own. A joint headquarters was established on the Turkish side of the Turkey-Syria border, but its performance fell short of Turkey’s expectations, so it decided to launch the operation.
Turkey has received conflicting messages from Washington. President Donald Trump said he would withdraw the symbolic US military presence from the region and that Turkey would have to assume responsibility for guarding the Daesh terrorists who are being held by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). After seeing the reaction of various powerhouses in Washington, he later modified this attitude and, with less than modest words, wrote on Twitter: “As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).”
Two days later, he praised Turkey as a valuable NATO ally, but qualified his comment by saying: “I am in touch with Kurds. If Turkey goes off limits, I will hit them with heavy financial sanctions.”
A war without casualties and collateral damage is almost inconceivable
Considering the possibility that the Turkish army or the YPG may lose control of the camps where Daesh terrorists are being held, Trump announced that the US had decided to evacuate two leading extremists to an undisclosed location under American control. They are Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, who are suspected of being responsible for beheading several civilians, including British aid workers Alan Henning and David Haines and the American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
If the YPG releases Daesh terrorists either to embarrass Turkey or because it lacks the means to keep them in their camps, such an irresponsible act would have grave consequences because tremendous efforts were made to subdue and arrest them.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan touched on this subject in one of his recent statements. Unlike the figure of 19,000 cited by the US, he estimated that there must be about 1,500 Daesh terrorists being held in the detention centers in the proposed safe zone. He added that some of them will have to be tried for the crimes they have committed, while others may be integrated back into the societies they came from. Many nations would oppose Turkey’s intention to integrate Daesh terrorists back into their native countries.
Turkey launched the operation for a cause that it considered to be legitimate. A defeat of the Turkish army — the biggest in NATO after the US — is not likely.
However, there is a flip side of the coin. A war without casualties and collateral damage is almost inconceivable. Turkey will eliminate or neutralize several members of the YPG, but it may also suffer casualties itself. The YPG has already started indiscriminately firing at civilian targets in Turkish settlements close to the Syrian border, causing several civilian casualties and physical damage. As the clashes gain momentum, more casualties have to be feared.
Almost no country in the world extended full support to Turkey’s military action. The most pro-Turkish positions were “Yes, but…” statements. The operation is taking place as Turkey experiences its most significant isolation in the international arena.
A group of EU countries last week called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council and submitted a proposed statement claiming that the military operation might not dispel Turkey’s security worries. They blamed Turkey’s unilateral action. The US and Russia vetoed the joint statement, each for their own reasons. However, the pressure on Turkey may continue to mount and several countries may try to make its task difficult on the battlefield.