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Friday, October 5, 2012

Is a Syrian-Turkish war likely?

So we have cross-border shelling on the Turkey-Syrian border, and now (just in) a second round of retaliatory shelling by Turkish forces. Among other things, the incident shows the inherent risks of a Syrian civil war in terms of the potential for a spreading of the conflict.

We could conceivably see a "hotter" Turkey-Syrian conflict erupting, but also the regionalization of such a conflict, with Iran backing the Syrian regime and Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar ganging up against Assad. And with the Iranian regime under severe internal stress over deflation, a foreign policy distraction might come in handy. Turkey, in turn, is of course a Nato member and Russia and China have come down in support of Assad against outside interference.

But I hope and think that the Director of (the liberal Turkish think tank) TESEV's Foreign Policy Programme, Sabiha Gündogar, is right:
No matter what people are saying in the press, Turkey has not arrived at the point of discussing military action against Syria and officials are working to avoid us from ever getting to that point. (Quoted in Europe Online Magazine.)
And the Syrian regime is throwing water on the fire. The BBC:

Syria said it was looking into the origin of the cross-border shelling that hit Akcakale. 
Information Minister Omran Zoabi added: "Syria offers its sincere condolences to the families of the victims and to our friends the Turkish people."

In other words, my hunch is that the current incident is not likely to escalate further. However, history - the Syrian downing aircraft and attack on a refugee camp on Turkish soil - shows that these tensions are lasting. And the continued Turkish support for the Free Syrian Army and likely Syrian support for the PKK, along with the continued stream of refugees from Syria into Turkey (many of whom one must assume return to Syria to fight the regime that forced them to flee) suggests that there will be plenty more opportunities to test the restraints of the leadership of the two regimes in the weeks and months to come.

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