28 June 2012

Syrian Update

Tuesday came and gone and all Turkey did was to warn Syria that any future incidents will be considered a casus belli.

NATO reiterated that the downing of a plane was unacceptable.

But the overall impression that a crisis was averted and behind closed doors the US and NATO allies convinced Turkey to back down.

There was even an anonymous US official who told the New York Times that the Turkish plane was probably guilty of spying, implying that Syria might have had a point. Though they hastened to add that:
“On a political level, NATO is taking the Turks at their word,” said a senior United States official who has reviewed classified reports of the episode.
One senior NATO diplomat said that even if the Turks were spying on Syria’s military readiness, it should not alter the international reaction. “When this happens between neighboring countries, you give a warning and then send up interceptors,” said the official, who was not authorized to speak on the record. “You don’t just shoot down the plane.” 
But I believe that all of this is a misdirection. I never thought that Turkey was itching to invade Syria. For all the reasons I enumerated, I am pretty sure they abhor the notion.

The idea behind this crisis is to create a framework which could be used to legitimize a potential military action by Turkey without requiring an international authorization. And the reason for that setup is to pressure Russia that under certain circumstances Turkey (and going by his public persona, its temperamental and fiery Prime Minister) could attack Syria and cause the overthrow of the current regime.

To bolster that framework, today the Turkish government announced new rules of engagement with Syria:
Turkey's decision to reinforce its border with Syria comes two days after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a change in terms of its military engagement.
He told parliament that Syria was a "clear and present threat" and any "military element" that approached the Turkish border from Syria would be treated as a threat and a military target.
Does that mean that they are getting ready to invade Syria? No. It means that they are telling everyone that they could retaliate with massive force if, say, a border guard were to shoot in the general direction of refugee camps.

The subtext is that, since escalation is rarely contained by logic and reason, the current situation could turn into something no one wants.

Not unexpectedly, Russia just announced that it is supporting the new Annan plan which calls for a unity government in Syria.

Since it is extremely unlikely that Bashar al-Assad will accept that plan and go quietly, I expect Russia to slowly steer away from the current regime in the coming days.

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