Home News Analysis Syria and Turkey are plausibly heading toward an armed stand off

Syria and Turkey are plausibly heading toward an armed stand off

After the defeat of ISIS, both Syria and Turkey are standing poles apart as far as their objectives are concerned, which has increased the chances of the head on clashes between both militaries.

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Syrian Foreign Minister has clearly stated that his country does not want a war with Turkey after the latter claimed one of its posts coming under mortar fire from the area controlled by Syrian government forces. “We hope that our military and the Turkish military do not fight. This is our principled stance,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem told reporters in Beijing.” “What we are fighting are terrorists, especially in Idlib, which is Syrian territory – part of our country,” al-Moualem added. He was on an official tour to China where he gave the statement standing alongside State Councilor Wang.

Background of the Syrian Conflict

As long as the ISIS factor was in play, almost every stakeholder in Syria had a common enemy in the form of an Islamic state, but as soon as the group was defeated, the vested interest of the parties involved began to overlap each other. Syrian forces and Russia are fighting for the last six years to keep the anti-government rebels from toppling the Asad regime.

China is so invested in the Syrian situation that it has hosted government and opposition figures of Syria to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict. There are multiple reasons why China is taking a keen interest in Syria.

The United States initially wanted to force out Asad from office and therefore provided rebels with arms and expertise to wage the war against the government forces. But lack of government writ allowed ISIS to establish itself in Syria and hence the focus shifted to annihilate the ruthless ISIS fighter with the help of Kurd militia. Kurds fighters, YPG, got the aerial support and ammunition from the United States to fight against the ISIS, but as soon as the threat was neutralized, the United States pulled out its support and the Kurds were left to deal with Turkey on their own as both have a decade long territorial dispute.

Ceasefire Zone

Russia and Turkey agreed upon a de-escalation zone in Idlib last year which is the last remaining bastion of rebels fighting against the Syrian government. However, the cease-fire agreement did not last long as each side has been accusing the other of the violation. Turkey has been supporting rebels in the past and many of the top leaders during height of the civil war were actually residing inside Turkey, away from the battle zone.

Read more: Turkish army pull out will bring peace to Northern Syria

Turkish forces moved inside Syria in January 2018, starting Operation Olive Branch against the Kurds fighters of YPG, which it says incite violence inside Turkey. In Idlib, the Turkish army has several check posts; one which it claims was attacked by Syrian forces resulting in the heightened tensions between the two countries.

A conflict between Syria and Turkey, though plausible, is still likely to be avoided due to the involvement of Russia which is close to both Syria and Turkey. Syria does not seem to have an appetite for a conflict with Turkey as it has already made clear that it is not willing to take on Turkish military even though Turkish troops have posts inside Syrian territory, which is, in fact, a violation of Syrian sovereignty and international law. Similarly, Turkey, which is also facing multiple challenges, internal politics and economy to name the most pressing ones, is also likely to reciprocate and push for détente.

The Chinese Angle

China is so invested in the Syrian situation that it has hosted government and opposition figures of Syria to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict. There are multiple reasons why China is taking a keen interest in Syria. First being the expansionary foreign policy of Chinese President Xi Jinping, this has pushed China to look for a stake in the matters of global concern.

Read more: Turkey can’t leverage US-Russia tensions in Syria forever

Secondly, China wants to incorporate Syria along with Iraq and Iran into Belt and Road Initiative and for that peace is the pre-requisite. And lastly, the war in Syria has attracted many extremist Uighur fighters to join the fight. Even though both China and Syria are geographically way apart from each other, the Syria situation has become a matter of national security for China.

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