08 October 2019 10:16

Turkey's Euphrates operation in Syria: Erdoğan’s goals and realities

This operation is an operation that is bound up with the struggle for dominance between the US and Russia and has been facilitated as a result of these two imperialist forces’ wish to use Turkey to counter one another.

Photograph: AA

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Yusuf KARATAS

At the time of writing, even if the operation Turkey has for some time been gearing up for east of the Euphrates had yet to start, developments suggest the onset of this operation is imminent. With the US side making an announcement granting “approval” to the operation following the phone call between Erdoğan and Trump whereby it spoke of the start of the operation being imminent but the US not being part of the operation, and subsequent news of US troop withdrawals from the border regions, the moment is being anticipated at which the Erdoğan administration will press the button.

The data to hand permit us to say that neither the aims nor the potential consequences of this operation, dubbed “Fountain of Peace” before it has even commenced, will be as affable as its name

To understand the extent to which the goals proclaimed by Turkey’s power holders with reference to this operation are realizable, we first need to turn and examine the developments that led to this operation.

Leaving Idlib to one side, where the Syrian government and Russia display their  determination at every opportunity to liquidate jihadist groups, the greatest uncertainty over Syria’s future finds expression in the question of what is to prevail east of the Euphrates, where the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are cooperating with the US.

Ever since it gave Turkey permission for the Afrin operation, Russia has followed a strategy in Syria designed to bring NATO-member Turkey and the USA into mutual confrontation and foil the US’s plans. There can be no dispute that Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s latest comments that the US was not prepared to countenance Turkey’s legitimate demands in the region and President Erdoğan’s stance was understandable serve the aim of bringing Turkey into confrontation with the US by goading it into a unilateral operation.

For its part, the US has until now, while on the one hand using cooperation with the Kurds as a trump card in its negotiations over Syria’s future, tried to pursue a policy based on bringing Turkey into alignment with it especially with regard to the strategy of besieging Iran. The negotiations held with Turkey over the “safe zone” and the latest position granting “approval” to Turkey’s unilateral operation must be perceived of as a continuation of this policy – and the SDF, too, clearly has lessons it must draw from this policy, having gradually become more engaged with the US ever since the Raqqa operation. Trump’s invitation to Erdoğan for talks in Washington next month and Erdoğan’s pronouncements that he trusts Trump’s good faith at every opportunity show that, despite the considerable tension that has been experienced, relations between the two countries may be transported onto a new dimension following this operation.

If so, the first thing that can be said about Turkey’s operation east of the Euphrates is that this operation is an operation that is bound up with the struggle for dominance between the US and Russia and has been facilitated as a result of these two imperialist forces’ wish to use Turkey to counter one another. Hence, the granting of “approval” to this operation does not mean Turkey’s power holders will be able to realize its professed goals under this operation. On the contrary, the extent to which these goals will be realized depends on the struggle for dominance between the US and Russia.

Turkey’s power holders declare their operation-related goals to be to create a “safe zone” 30-32 km deep east of the Euphrates, to neutralize the SDF and divest it of its heavy weaponry and to settle two million refugees in the proposed “safe zone.”

The realities on the ground show that it is/will not be so easy for Turkey to realize its goals.

In the first place, it may be misleading to look at the Afrin operation and expect an easy “victory” east of the Euphrates, because the SDF (Kurdish forces) were in a position at the time of the Afrin operation that enabled them to withdraw their forces to positions east of the Euphrates. However, considering the absence of another area to which the forces currently here could be withdrawn and the heavy weaponry with which they are equipped, intervention here will inevitably lead to serious and long-lasting conflict.

On the other hand, if the “approval” granted by the US to this operation does not mean that it has abandoned its designs in the region – and thinking so would at the very least be political naivety – it is not beyond the bounds of probability that this move will both bring Turkey into confrontation with the Syrian government and its allies and also force it into compromising on the US axis as the course of the conflict with the SDF dictates.

Russia, in turn, wants a Turkish intervention to bring it into confrontation with the US and to force the Syrian Kurds to compromise with the regime. It is not hard to guess that both Russia and the Syrian government as well as Iran will oppose Turkey setting up 30-32 km “safe zone” and also settling two million refugees in this zone – and these forces are known to counter the “safe zone” plan by citing the Adana Agreement and argue that the border regions should be transferred to the Syrian government.

Against such a background, first of all the Euphrates operation will embroil Turkey even further within the struggle for dominance between two imperialist forces.

Secondly, the ensuing conflict will increase instability and lack of safety in the region rather than foster safety and also bring about the conditions for a resuscitation of the ISIS threat.

Thirdly, the plan to settle two million refugees will bring Turkey into far greater confrontation with the Syrian government and lead to results that increase the risk of conflict.

The question that must be asked here is why Turkey’s power holders are so insistent on this operation despite all these risks?

In the first place, it is seeking to unite the whole of society around its policies by portraying this operation as a “survival matter” and create a bit of breathing space for itself at a time of dire political and economic straits. On the other hand, it sees this operation as being necessary for the success of the policy it is pursuing domestically over the Kurdish problem.

Nevertheless, thanks both to the dire conditions the country finds itself in and also the impossibility of the goals being realized, unlike the Afrin operation, it will not be surprising if the power holders’ policies end up being exposed to even greater debate – and, here, the stance that pro-labour, peace and democracy forces in the country adopt will most certainly also play a decisive role.

Finally, even if developments east of the Euphrates have impacts on the Kurdish problem in the country, it would nevertheless be wrong to index the problem to this. Moreover, the intervention policy will neither solve the problem, nor will it weaken hopes and expectations for a cohabitation-based peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem domestically.

Let us assume that Turkey’s power holders achieve all their goals east of the Euphrates. If an election is held tomorrow in Diyarbakır, let President Erdoğan stand against Selçuk Mızraklı, if he likes.

Will the result change?

So, why then do the country’s power holders insist on descending into the pit of hell on Bahçeli and Perinçek’s rope?

(Translated by Tim DRAYTON)