Turkey may find itself trapped in Syria safe zone

Turkey may find itself trapped in Syria safe zone

Turkey may find itself trapped in Syria safe zone
Smoke billows from targets inside Syria during bombardment by Turkish forces on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. (AP)

The so-called safe zone that Turkey has drawn within Syria’s borders has many objectives. First and foremost, it is to make the border safe for the Turks, provide a means to get rid of Syrian refugees by force, and to make the refugees a buffer zone to protect them from Kurdish militants. The area will be dangerous for its residents, the majority of whom are Syrian Kurds. The area under military incursion is less than 30 kilometers deep, but there are warnings that it will mark the beginning of a new chapter of the conflict inside Syria.

Ankara, in its biggest counter-displacement operation in modern history, plans to get rid of some 2 million Syrians, mostly Arabs, and force them to settle in different ethnic areas, foreshadowing new ethnic wars. The leading beneficiaries from this “social engineering” are, firstly, the Syrian regime, which will see its bargaining position strengthened and will get rid of local enemies at the same time.

The second beneficiary is Iran. By throwing 2 million Sunni Arabs into Kurdish areas in northeast Syria as part of its ethnic cleansing process, Turkey will make it easier for Tehran and Hezbollah to carry out sectarian cleansing on the other side of Syria. Indeed, getting rid of 2 million Syrians in this way is a godsend for Iran, which has feared international pressure to return Syrian refugees to the areas from which they were forced out.

The architect of the operation, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, decided some time ago to give up his former positions and coordinate his activities in Syria with his new allies, Iran and Russia; and the safe zone he has decided to create is part of the understandings between them. This is not the first time that Turkey has manipulated Syrian refugees. They were a card in Ankara’s negotiations with the EU, and now it is using them in its fight against Kurdish militants in the border areas. It may seem strange that, while Lebanon has been warned against returning the Syrian refugees it hosts, the UN has not done the same with Turkey — a richer country that has more capacity and has more associations with the Syrian war.

While Lebanon has been warned against returning the Syrian refugees it hosts, the UN has not done the same with Turkey.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

As far as the US is concerned, it has never been enthusiastic about the war in Syria. It has considered it within its top interests only to the extent of its regional rivalry with Russia, or its desire to counter Iranian expansionism. But Syria itself has not been an important part of its foreign policy priorities, quite unlike Iraq. In its narrow calculations, Washington supported the Syrian armed opposition to harm the Russians and Iran’s militias during the years of war, but this support has fallen considerably, as has the activity of the Syrian opposition, which has lost most of its territories.

As for Israel, its military interventions have been limited to aerial bombardments, and it is unlikely to intervene as long as the new conflict is beyond the line drawn behind Syrian capital Damascus to the occupied Golan Heights, which the Israelis consider to be a “zone of military operations” for them.

The war in Syria has subsided, but has not yet reached its conclusion, as there are chapters remaining, including the wound opened by the Turks in the buffer zone inside Syria. The “safe zone” could become a trap for the Turks and their allies. There are potential tensions resulting from the dumping of refugees, who will be forced to move into a land that lacks services and ways to make a living.

The struggle for survival will go on, with extremist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh returning to life. Thus, Syria will continue to be a “theater” of regional and international conflict, the Americans will have to return later to hunt down terrorists, and the dangerous chaos will continue worldwide.

  • Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Twitter: @aalrashed

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