OPERATION PEACE SPRING AND NEW MIDDLE EAST ALLIGNMENTS

Operation Peace Spring
Photo via wikimedia.org

Although the US is officially opposing the operation peace spring launched by Turkey in Syria, but experts believe that Trump administration gave silent consent to Turkey regarding the operation peace spring. Operation peace spring is the third Turkish military operation in Syria in the last three years. The expectations and outcomes of this operation are still uncertain. However, this operation may change the dynamics of the middle east conflict. 

In the last seven years, Turkey has been trying to create a safe zone in various areas of the Turkey-Syria border. In 2012, Syrian Kurds captured northeast Syria. YPG successfully repelled Syrian regime forces from the area. Turkey believes that YPG is the Syrian chapter of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Turkish authorities label PKK as a terrorist organization. 

Defense analysts believe that the Obama administration and the Turkish military opposed Erdogan’s intentions to intervene in Syria. In a protest to the Obama administration, Turkey declined to be a part of the US coalition against ISIL after the fall of Mosul. Turkey further declined the US request to use the Incirlik airbase in South Turkey. So the USA had to use the bases of Qatar and Bahrain in its war against ISIL. Furthermore, the US declined the Turkish offer to arm and train the Syrian opposition to counter ISIL. Instead, the USA opted to support Kurd militias against ISIL. To avoid the slogan of Kurdish nationalism Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) was formed in 2015 and non-Kurd fighters were also inducted in this militia. SDF was trained and armed by the US military. 

Russian entry in Syria completely changed the dynamics of the Syrian war. In 2015, Turkey found itself surrounded by Russia and the untrustworthy USA. However, the failed coup attempt provided Turkey with an opportunity to strengthen its relations with Russia. During the coup attempt, Russia provided political and intelligence support to Erdogan. After the failed coup, Turkey was given a clean chit to enter in Northwest Syria to eliminate ISIL and YPG. That operation was called “Euphrates Shield”. This operation resulted in the Astana process. In the Astana process, Russia, Iran and Turkey reached an agreement to collaborate in Syria. 

Similarly in 2018, Russia permitted Turkey to launch operation “Olive Branch”. This operation was aimed at expelling YPG from Afrin. Turkey successfully secured its border areas in the west of the Euphrates river. Turkey was assuming that the US would withdraw after the ISIL defeat. However, the USA decided to stay. This created frustration in Turkish authorities which resulted in the launch of the current operation named peace spring. 

At the start of 2018, the US state department suggested a plan for the middle east. It covers the following key points 

  1. Complete dismantling of ISIL and Al Qaeda
  2. Creation of suitable conditions for the return of Syrian refugees 
  3. Pave the way for UN-authorised elections in Syria for new leadership

Experts believe that this was a plan to maintain the US military presence in the region. The US proposed this plan to nullify the 2011 withdrawal, which created the ISIL. However a few months later, President Trump fired Rex Tillerson and announced complete withdrawal from Syria. President Trump ordered the Pentagon and State Department to complete the anti ISIL operation within six months. However, the US could not withdraw its troops from Syria. US and Turkey held many rounds of negotiations on the Syrian crisis and US withdrawal. However, these negotiations could not bring any results. At the start of October, a phone call was exchanged between US President Trump and Erdogan. Experts believe that in this call, Trump gave a “go ahead” to Erdogan. 

It is still uncertain whether the US will withdraw from Syria or will allow Turkey to create a safe zone along the Turkey-Syria border. However, experts believe that current Turkish operations will result in the formation of new alliances in the region. The Arab Gulf states strongly opposed this operation. UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, and Israel raised concerns against the operation peace spring. The Emergency Arab League meeting was held in Cairo on October 12. Arab League Secretary-General Aboul Gheit called this operation as an invasion on Arab land. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir also criticized the Turkish move and demanded an immediate end. Saudi Arabia is trying to persuade the USA to maintain a military presence in northeast Syria to counter Iran and Turkey. In November 2018, Saudi Arabia promised $100m aid for US military presence in Syria. Saudi Arabia also offered the USA to send Saudi troops for patrolling alongside the US and YPG. Experts believe that the Turkish peace spring is a major blow for Saudi efforts to keep Turkey away from Syria.

Meanwhile, Israel also opposed the Turkish action in Syria. Israel also expressed sympathies with YPG. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu feared that Turkey would be working on the ethnic cleansing of the Kurdish population. He also offered “humanitarian assistance” to the Kurd community. Here it must be noted that Israel is a proponent of a Kurd state comprising of regions of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Israel and the deep state of Saudi Arabia believe that the formation of greater Kurdistan will help in countering the influence of regional powers like Iran and Turkey. Russia says that it understands the security concerns of Turke. Russia and the USA also blocked an EU drafted statement condemning the operation peace spring and asking Turkey to leave Syria immediately. Iran also showed a similar stance which indicates that new alignments are shaping in the region. 

Experts opine that Iran is facing the US sanctions, so it does not want to deteriorate its relations with Turkey. On the other hand, Russia also needs Turkish cooperation to end the Syrian conflict. Russia also wants US expulsion from Syria. Russia also wants to punish Kurds for having an alliance with the USA. As a result of operation peace spring, Kurds will be dependent upon the Syrian regime for their protection. Despite deploying troops, the  Syrian government does not want a confrontation with Turkey. Kurds have signed an agreement with the Syrian regime for the deployment of Syrian forces at the Turkey-Syria border. 

Experts believe that confrontation between Syria and Turkey cannot be ruled out. However, Syria’s allies Russia and Iran will not provide any substantial support against Turkey. So Syria will try its best to avoid direct conflict. Experts believe that Russia will try to broker a deal between Turkey and the Syrian regime for a ceasefire. 

Russia has already brokered a deal between the two countries after the Operation Euphrates Shield. Russia wants Syria free of all foreign forces. Political and defense analysts believe that if the USA leaves Syria, the Syrian population will be entirely dependent on Russia and the Syrian regime. After the US withdrawal, Russia will be able to impose its decisions on Syria. After exercising its influence in Syria, Russia will also be in a position to impose its will on Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel. It means that US withdrawal will give Russia a free hand in the region.

Related: Kurd-Syria Truce: Syrian Regime Heads to North Against Turkish Invasion 

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