Turkey’s war with the Assad regime in Syria brings to mind the words of the late PM Menachem Begin during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War: “We wish both sides the best of success.”
Turkey’s recent invasion of Syria was aimed not at the Kurds, for a change, but at the Assad regime as well as its supporters from the “Axis of Resistance.” The ceasefire announced between Ankara and Moscow is unlikely to last. Previous Russian attempts at finding a diplomatic solution in Syria have all ended in failure. Furthermore, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan needs to achieve a complete victory on behalf of the rebellion in Idlib if he wishes to remain in power.
Turkey’s airstrikes in Syria killed nine members of Hezbollah, several Shiite militiamen supported by Iran, and dozens of Syrian troops. In response, Iran warned Ankara against targeting its people, noting that Turkish bases are in Tehran’s “range of fire.” It also sent more militiamen to aid the regime in recapturing Idlib.
Turkey’s attacks were viewed as justified by much of the international community. They came after Syrian-Russian airstrikes on Idlib massacred hundreds of innocent civilians and killed dozens of Turkish soldiers.
Turkey has NATO’s second-biggest army, and it is well-positioned to deal severe damage to the Syrian regime. Given that both Assad and Vladimir Putin are widely despised, it is unlikely that Turkey’s venture into Syria—which has damaged Damascus’s tanks, air defenses, jets, and military bases—will come under censure.
At the same time, it is unlikely that Ankara will go so far as to provoke Russia by killing Assad or directly engaging Russian troops. Turkey, while a formidable military power in its own right, cannot challenge Russia. Nor would its more influential or stronger NATO partners allow it to take such steps. Nobody wants a third world war, particularly over the likes of Syria. It is, however, possible that the West and Israel would provide diplomatic support and perhaps arms or intelligence to Ankara, as they all share common goals: to degrade Assad’s regime, prove that Russia is still relatively powerless in the region, and evict Iran from Syria.
Iran and its proxies are in an unenviable position. President Donald Trump’s sanctions campaign has left its economy in a terrible recession. Unless the coronavirus crisis upends his prospects, Trump is unlikely to be removed from office in November, meaning that in all likelihood, the sanctions will stay and even intensify. Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, was killed by a US drone strike in January, along with its leading commander of the Iraqi Shiite militias, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. The shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner, widespread protests within the country, and the coronavirus outbreak have worsened Iran’s isolation, further crippled the economy, and sapped the regime’s internal legitimacy.
The Islamic Republic does not have the funds to continue waging war in Syria. In its “near-abroad,” its forces are being targeted in the south by the Israelis (Syria), in the north by the Turks (Syria), in the west by the Americans (Iraq), and perhaps soon from the east by the Taliban.
Read more: Besa Center