MESOP : NO INVASION POSSIBLE ! Turkey’s bluff – By Ömer Taspinar – February 2016 – Todays Zaman

There is a sense of déjà vu in reports that the Turkish army may be about to engage in a military incursion in Syria.

Similar reports had surfaced last year as well. Back then, the story was that Turkey was preparing to set up a safe zone in Syria along a 70-mile stretch of Turkey’s border with a 20-mile deep incursion into the Syrian border. It is hard to take the idea of a unilateral Turkish incursion in Syria seriously for a number of reasons.

First, there is the sheer absence of logic in the idea of military involvement without Western allies. Syria has long been a threatening mess, but neither Turkey nor anyone else has exactly been lining up to send their national armies into Syria. Sure, foreign fighters are plentiful in Syria and all of the regional powers, as well as the United States and Russia, have supported proxies there. But with the Russian involvement on the ground, the prospect of a Turkish incursion has become even more remote. Second, there is the factor of negative Turkish public opinion. In Turkey, the idea of military intervention into Syria remains very unpopular among the populace. The intervention will certainly backfire and unleash even more Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorism in the country.

What about the argument that Turkey will intervene in Syria only to stop Kurdish forces. The theory goes that Syrian Kurdish advances against ISIL have exacerbated the concern in Turkey that Kurds will create some sort of state or autonomous region and to prevent that outcome, the Turkish government, we are told, is finally willing to intervene in Syria.

There is no doubt that Ankara is incensed by the fact that both Russia and the United States are providing the Syrian Kurds military support. Turkey’s anger is driven by the sense the White House now prefers their Kurdish partners in Syria to Turkey. The Turkish government is extremely frustrated by the new visibility the alliance between the United States and the Syrian Kurds, especially the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Syrian affiliate of the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has gained. Ankara attributes the Kurdish success against ISIL to the American willingness to support Syrian Kurdish forces with air power and supplies. In the Turkish view, the PYD is simply a branch of the PKK, which both Turkey and the United States have branded a terrorist group. Allowing the PYD to unite the Kurdish areas of Syria would therefore represent an existential threat to Turkey.

Under such circumstances, the more realistic interpretation of rumors of Turkish intervention is the following: By threatening to intervene in Syria, the Turkish government is simply seeking to change a US policy that it finds potentially very damaging to Turkish interests. As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan no doubt reminded US Vice President Joe Biden during his recent visit, Turkey has the ability to have a far greater impact on the fight against ISIL than the Kurds do. Instead of an actual incursion, Turkey is spreading the news of the prospect of a military intervention to gain US attention and convince the US government to reduce its support of the PYD. At the current moment, the prospect of intervention is very useful for the Turkish government. Actual intervention, however, with all of the attendant risks of a confrontation with Russia, is much less appealing. In other words, Turkey is bluffing.