Ahmed Sami Abdel-Fatah
A dispute between Turkey and the United States over proposals for a safe zone in northern Syria despite that negotiations between the two parties started more than 17 months ago.
Turkey has a number of motives to control the safe zone in northern Syria, including:
Encouraging refugees to return: Turkey aims at creating the safe zone to encourage Syrians to return to their country once again, as this would ease the load over the Turkish economy, especially after an announcement by the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Ankara spent around 35 billion Lira on around three million Syrian refugees. Moreover, the Turkish Minister of Interior said Ankara will not deport Syrian refugees who do not have a temporary protection ID card but will correct their legal status and distribute them to Turkish cities.
Deepening Turkish influence in northern Syria: There is no doubt that constructing a 30-km-long safe zone will deepen Turkey’s influence in northern Syria at the expenses of the Kurds and the Syrian regime. Any military operation will involve its main land forces of armed factions that are based in Idlib, provided that Turkey will provide ground and air support for such operations. This means these armed factions will possess new lands with a Turkish support, which will increase Turkey’s role in any future political settlements.
Securing Turkey’s south borders: The main objective of any Turkish military operation in northern Syria is to defeat the Kurdish protection units that receive US support, which is the US tool to influence the outcome of the conflict in Syria. Turkey says, as stated by its foreign minister, that it will not allow the establishment of a Kurdish security belt on its borders in the south.
Increasing AKP’s popularity: The AKP is certainly pushing for a Syrian military operation to cover the internal party’s failure, which cost it Istanbul. Moreover, the party wants to mobilize the nationalism of Turkish citizens through direct military integration in the Syrian conflict against the people’s protection units.
Deepening alliance with Nationalist Movement Party: The AK Party is seeking to launch military operations in northern Syria to deepen its strategic alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party, as without this alliance, the opposition could lead a campaign to hold early presidential elections, which the ruling party completely rejects.
Compromising Syria for Mediterranean gas: Turkey follows the policy of imposing a fait accompli with regard to gas exploration in the Mediterranean Sea, as the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean have formed an alliance against Turkey’s attempt. Turkey wants to impose its authority on northern Syria in order to use it as a future negotiating card with Syria in order to align itself with the alliance that includes Egypt, Greece and Cyprus.
On the other hand, the United States recognizes that Turkey and Iran have armed organizations working for them, which means that if the Kurds are abandoned, the US geopolitical interests will be threatened.
In other words, the United States tried at the beginning of the crisis in Syria to use armed factions as a mean to control the scene and the Congress approved a training program for these factions. However, Turkey, due to geographical proximity to Syria, was able to attract these factions, by facilitating the smuggling of arms and fighters, the matter which pushed the United States to search for another factions.
Because the Kurds were rejected by Turkey and Iran, the United States decided to stop the training program for the armed factions and directed its military and political support to the Kurds.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said that new US proposals for a safe zone in northern Syria do not satisfy Turkey.
The minister further added that an agreement on the issue needs to reached as soon as possible because Ankara has no patience left.
Therefore, Turkey has a number of options available to deal wit the crisis in Syria, including:
Carrying out limited military operations: It is possible that Turkey would carry out limited military operations in Tell Abiad and Tall Rifat with no exposure to places where the United States is located.
Expansion of limited military operation: Turkey may expand its military operation east of the Euphrates. In other words, as Turkey may attack the Kurds in their strongholds, with coordination with the United States so that US soldiers are not targeted. This is unlikely.
Sovereignty sharing: Turkey may offer the United States a 30 kilometer-long safe zone so that the Kurdish people’s protection units are expelled from the agreed areas, in return for the United States sharing control of the region with Turkey.