25 January 2013

Latest Developments on Syrian Conflict

There are signs that things are coming to a head in the next month or two.

1) Evacuation of Russian citizens from Syria.

Russia quietly evacuated 77 of its citizens from Syria. And when prompted about this, Sergey Lavrov downplayed its significance. He also divulged inadvertently that the families of Russian diplomats in Syrian have been sent home a while ago.

What is also interesting is that Russia sent a large warship in December to Syria and the New York Times reported at the time that its mission was the evacuation of Russian citizens in Syria at the first sign of conflict.

Clearly, they know something we don't.

2) Deployment of Patriot Missiles

I speculated recently that things might heat up once the Patriot missiles are in place. It appears that they will become operational sometimes next week:
More than 1,000 American, German and Dutch troops are to be based in Turkey to operate the six Patriot batteries. 
The Americans will be based at Gaziantep, 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of the Syrian border. The Germans will be based at Kahramanmaras, 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of the Syrian border and the Dutch at Adana, 100 kilometers (66 miles) west of the border.
It is true that these are essentially defensive missiles. But their presence will make Syrian army operations rather risky in the border area. That is because, it seems clear to me that any casus belli will be used  by Turkey to launch targeted attacks on key army units and Syrian air force.

Since a Turkish war plane was previously downed by Syria with no warning, a smallest provocation can be justifiably used to do some serious damage to Syrian forces without committing ground troops. The hope would be that such a push would be enough for the FSA to take the upper hand.

3) Turkey's Kurdish peace initiative might yield tangible results soon.

In the aftermath of the murder of 3 PKK activists in Paris, both the Turkish government and the PKK sources were unusually subdued in their reaction. One side mentioned organizational infighting without naming names and the other pointed the finger to a shadowy "deep state" without explicitly implicating the government.

Since then, government representatives went back to Ocalan to negotiate some form of truce and a larger peace place with him. There are also signs that the US is pushing the Turkish government to enlarge the scope and to talk with BDP (Peace and Democracy Party), a pro-Kurdish party with a decent parliamentary presence. It is also well respected not just by ordinary Kurds but by members of the PKK.

Davutoglu, the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs went to Davos (a) to slam the world's inaction on Syria, (b) to suggest that PYD's support for Assad could become problematic for them, and (c) to mention that Erbil (i.e. Barzani and Iraqi Kurdistan) is supportive of Turkey's effort to make peace with Kurds. For good measure, he even added:
“As I’ve said before, the U.N. secretary-general will be apologizing to the people in Aleppo in 10 years, the way Ban Ki-moon apologized for Srebrenica.” 
4) Elections in Israel.

They created a much better legislative arithmetic than the bleak vision provided by Naftali Bennett. As I expressed my optimism about the likelihood of a large, national unity coalition a few days ago, Israeli voters thankfully obliged and elected a new Knesset that is likely to produce a government of peace.

If that happens, as I hoped, events in Syria will have much fewer repercussions for Israel's security (though, as with Turkey, they will have to negotiate in earnest).

We certainly live in interesting times.

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