Why is Turkey Betting Big on the Syrian Uprising?

Why is Turkey, as opposed to the West and the Arab League, actively helping the Syrian rebels? Erdogan has many good reasons - from his point of view - as this article elucidates.

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Daniel NIsman,

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The Syrian conflict is entering its tenth month with Assad's grip on power largely intact. As opposed to Libya, Egypt, and even Yemen, the international community has been largely reluctant to pressure the Assad regime to end the violence, while the opposition itself has struggled to gain legitimacy amongst the Arab League as a viable alternative current leadership.

To their credit, the West and the Arab world are justified in their hesitation to intervene in Syria. Unlike Libya's Qaddafi, Assad is closely backed by Iran, as well as Lebanon's most powerful militia, Hizbullah. In addition, Syria's sharp sectarian divides between Allawites, Sunni's, and Kurds, threaten a post-revolution civil war on Iraq's western border.

Needless to say, the exiled Syrian National Council (SNC) seems unconnected to events taking place within the country, unable to influence the insurgent Free Syrian Army, which has overtaken the spotlight from the opposition's peaceful protest campaign.

Amidst the hesitation of the Arab world and the west to take any real action, Turkey has emerged as the most outspoken critic of the Assad Regime, despite the previously warm ties enjoyed by the two nations.  

Since the conflict first erupted in Syria's rural towns, the Turkish government, let by Premier Recep Tayyep Erdogan, has constantly called for Assad to step down, pushed for sanctions, and even hinted at military intervention in the form of a "Humanitarian buffer zone." In addition to hosting the Syrian National Council, it is widely rumored that insurgents from the Free Syrian Army are staging their attacks from Turkish territory under the knowledge of the military.

Despite the risks, Turkey above all other nations stands to benefit from regime change in Syria.


At one point, trying to sway Assad's allegiance, Erdogan and Assad were even said to be taking joint vacations together.
Since the days of the Ottoman Empire, Syria has served as the Turk's gateway to the Arab world, its territory constantly remaining firmly within the Empire's grip as it grew and shrank in size elsewhere.

For years, Turkey was undoubtedly irked by the fact that Syria was heavily influenced by another contender for regional hegemony—Iran.  During his first term, Erdogan tried to sway Assad's allegiance using a calculated carrot-and-stick policy, which materialized into close economic and even military cooperation.

At one point Erdogan and Assad were even said to be taking joint vacations together.

Once the conflict broke out in Syria, Assad infuriated Erdogan, snubbing his initial requests to stop the crackdown on the mostly Sunni-led uprising. As the conflict intensified, it began to further resonate among Sunnis in Turkey and elsewhere, threatening Erdogan with embarrassment over his previously warm ties to the Allawite regime.

Since that time, it appears that Erdogan has made a strategic gambit, throwing his weight behind the Syrian opposition in its many forms.  A key factor in this decision making is the assumption that Assad will eventually fall, and when he does, Turkey will emerge as the champion of the successful Syrian revolution.

A new Syrian regime sympathetic to Turkey, would plug the last whole in Turkey's quest for regional hegemony.

On the security front, Syria has remained the only country which has failed to cooperate with the Turkish war against Kurdish separatists, many of whom are said to now be funded and supported by the Assad Regime in retaliation for Erdogan's policies. 

Economically, Syria has remained one of Turkey's largest trading partners, and a Sunni regime in place of Assad would ensure clear waters for future development of ties.

Lastly, the loss of the Allawite regime would constitute a major loss for Iran, Turkey's primary non-Arab contender for regional domination, cutting off its primary hub in the Mediterranean Sea.

Despite the high profile Arab League resolutions and statements by prominent western leaders, it appears that the success of the Syrian opposition rests with Turkey.  Erdogan can be expected to continue pushing both the Arab League and the west for new sanctions, while punishing Syria with unilateral moves of its own.

Syria for its part is practically impotent in opposing these actions, as any visible aggression would only justify Turkish military intervention and harsher sanctions.  

Turkey is making all the right moves so that when all is said and done, the new regime in Syria will be one which opens the gate for future Turkish hegemony in the region.

 






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