Operation "Euphrates Shield": Why Did Turkish Tanks Enter Syria?

The operation of the Turkish troops looks as a result of chains of agreements, which included all players in the region.

The ultimate goal of the Turkish operation against ISIS in the Syrian city Jarablus is the expulsion of Kurds from the territory west of the Euphrates River and the creation of an Arab corridor to the Turkish border, experts on regional affairs said in an interview with valdaiclub.com.

At the same time the operation of the Turkish troops looks as a result of chains of agreements, which included all players in the region. It started after direct negotiations between Turkey and Syria, which took place after the Kurds conducted a military assault against Syrian government forces in the city of Hasaka, with the aim to attract US military support against Damascus.

"The Kurds will further move away from the Syrian authorities, but would like to use this conflict [in Hasaka], which, as they believe, has happened through no fault of them, to get the Americans more involved in this situation and in fact to make them create a no-fly zone on the model of the early '90s in Iraq, "- Nodar Mosaki, senior research fellow at the Kurdish studies department of the Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences , said in an interview with valdaiclub.com.

According to Mosaki, Assad did not coordinate his position toward the Kurds with Russia, which would like to see more friendly relations between Kurds and Syrian government forces. The main issue for the Kurds is the legitimization and sovereignization of their territory, where a no-fly zone established by the Americans could play a decisive role.

At the same time, Assad refuses to recognize the new status of the Kurds in Syria, and, according to Mosaki, does not want to accept the new reality that the Kurds, who in the past were disabled in their rights, currently control their own territory and have the support of the United States. It leads to conflicts in areas of Qamishli and Hasaka, where Syrian and Kurdish administrations currently operate in parallel.

"Some of Assad's actions happen without the consent of his main ally, Russia. If on this issue Assad informed the Russian authorities in advance, they would not let him do it. Russia tries to persuade him to accept new realities regarding the Kurds, "- Mosaki added.

From the Turkish point of view, the key issue is to prevent the creation by the Kurds of a corridor from Jazeera canton in the east of Syria to Afrin canton in the west. Yasar Yakis, former Turkish Foreign Minister told valdaiclub.com, that Turkey has an agreement with the US to prevent the Kurdish control over the territory after the liberation of the city of Manbij.

“The offensive won’t continue unless the Kurds remain on the western bank of the Euphrates. Turkey made a deal with the Americans when the Kurds were attacking ISIS in Manbij. The crossing of Euphrates by the Kurds was a red line for Turkey, but the Americans said that they will allow the Kurds to cross only for saving the city of Manbij from ISIS. Now that this has happened, the Kurds have to return to the eastern bank of the Euphrates.”

According to Hasan Selim Ozertem, Head of the Center for Energy Security Studies at the International Strategic Research Organization (USAK) in Ankara, the Turkish military operation also became possible thanks to an agreement with Russia and Iran, which allowed Turkey to use F-16 fighters in Syria.

Turkey did not use its aircraft in Syria after the incident with the downed Russian bomber in November 2015 and the subsequent deployment of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems at the air base Hmeymim. Moreover, according to Ozertem, successful negotiations between Turkey and the US resulted in the coalition air forces support to the Turkish operation in Jarablus.

Ozertem added that the aim of the operation is not the occupation and control of the area around Manbij, which will be transferred to the rebel forces (Free Syrian Army). Despite the fact that Ankara continues to support the rebels, Turkey may now be ready for the transition period in Syria, where Assad could remain in power for an indefinite period.

«In the coming period, particularly as the new president of the United States is elected in November, from 2017 onwards, we will be talking about a political solution for Syria. In this political solution, there will be a transition process. And in this transition process Turkey was against having Assad to stay in power. But now it has removed its block and is ready to see Assad in power. Before, in 2015, Turkey insisted on some timeframes, around 6 months of a transition period for Assad to remain in power, but now there is no such limitation,” – Ozertem said.

Ozertem also pointed out that the new Turkish government has a more constructive approach to Syria, than Davutoğlu government, and also agrees with external players’ involvement in the solution of the problem, that previously was considered as exclusively regional.

He added that although the leader of the Syrian Kurds Salih Muslim promised that the Turkish operation would become a "swamp", Turkey currently has enough diplomatic resources not to get bogged down in a long, multilateral conflict.

“The issue is how Turkey will cooperate with its partners and how it will cooperate with Damascus. The PYD is an actor on the ground, and it has some autonomy in that. But when it comes to become a danger, Turkey manages to cooperate with regional actors like Iran and Russia, along with international actors like the United States and create a link with Damascus for the leverage against the PYD.”

“The PYD has some potential to undermine Turkey’s position by using guerilla tactics, assymetric methods, so I suppose the PYD is a factor that cannot be ignored for the time being.”

According to Mosaki, such a line is already in force, as Turkey was able to negotiate with Assad, who is not willing to give autonomy to the Kurds until the transition period, and refuses to give formal status of Kurdish autonomy from Jazeera to Afrin.

"Turkey has to some extent convinced Assad that all this is intended to prevent Kurdish occupation of these additional areas, as now it will be easier to banish them," Mosaki said.

The Russian factor is also important for Turkey. Previously Ankara entered into a controversy with Moscow over the conflict in Syria. "Turkey believes that, improving relations with Russia and offering concessions to Russia regarding Aleppo, it could change Russia's position toward the Kurds, that Russia would not oppose this," - Mosaki said.
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