Tension is high once again in the Middle East. Despite reaching a ceasefire agreement last year, war between Syria and Turkey appears to be growing more likely. But why?
Turkey vs. Syria
Turkey seems to have been drawn further into the Syrian civil war. The Turkish military has become embroiled in battles with Syrian forces in the Idlib province. Multiple clashes have cost lives on both sides, and the saber-rattling has become ever more pronounced.
Recently, video footage was released showing Turkish military forces shooting down a Syrian Army helicopter. This assault followed a Syrian attack on Ankara’s troops in the region, which killed five soldiers. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Syria “will pay a very heavy price” for the attack. It appears that the downing of the helicopter may have been retribution for Damascus’ assault.
These incidents come four months after President Trump pulled American forces from the Syria-Turkey border. This action paved the way for the Turkish military to invade Syria to wipe out terrorist operatives in the region. But it also allowed Syria, with the help of Russia, to retake a large swath of territory in the area.
So who stands to benefit from the increasing hostilities between Turkey and Syria? According to The Washington Times, Russia could gain more power from these recent developments. According to The Times’ report, this situation could compel Turkey to “expand its military mission inside the country.”
If Turkey becomes more involved in the Syrian civil war, Russian President Vladimir Putin might become the only leader capable of brokering a deal between the two nations. Defense Department official Michael Rubin told The Washington Times that, “Erdogan went into Syria for entirely selfish and cynical reasons, and now finds that it was a lot easier to go in than get out.” He pointed out that Turkey “could get sucked into Syria far more, and that’s just [what] Russia wants.”
Rubin also explained how Russia could benefit from such a scenario. “If Russia can be the sole broker between Turkey and Syria in a low-intensity conflict, it only enhances Moscow’s power and allows it to keep Syria and Turkey under control. Simply put, Putin outplayed Erdogan,” he said.
Turkey and Russia hammered out a deal in 2018 to create a demilitarized zone in the Idlib province. The agreement was intended to prevent a mass exodus of Syrian refugees into Turkey. But despite the agreement, Syria’s military is now trying to retake its territory in the region. Turkish forces appear to have killed at least 76 Syrian soldiers over the past week. Erdogan issued an ominous warning, stating that “there is more to come.”
So far, about 700,000 people have been displaced in the province, increasing Turkish fear of a flood of refugees fleeing across the border if Syria manages to retake its territory. Many specialists monitoring the conflict say that President Trump’s decision to remove U.S. troops from the region paved the way for the current standoff between Turkey and Syria – and they might be right.
It is not difficult to imagine that removing America’s forces from certain combat theaters might have consequences. Nevertheless, it does not necessarily indicate that the U.S. should remain involved in foreign conflicts that do not serve its interests. As the situation continues to develop, time will tell whether the White House made the right decision in Syria.
Read more from Jeff Charles.