With the establishment of the Syria safe zone around the corner, center stage of the Middle East’s geopolitics is neither with Saudi Arabia nor with Iran. It’s with Turkey. President Tayyip Erdogan has played a move that has the potential of solving the eight-year-old riddle that Syria has been.
After intense closed-door negotiations with and public calls to the United States, Turkey convinced President Donald Trump to give way for a patch of a safe zone in Syria along the Turkish border. Creation of the zone is aimed at housing Syrian refugees that are presently living in Turkey and have been a source of social and political resentment there.
When the US pulled back from the designated safe zone and literally abandoned its longtime Kurdish allies, condemnation poured in from the world over. Condemnation for the US for leaving its partners in the lurch and condemnation for Turkey for launching a supposedly brutal offensive.
While the dissection of the US abandonment continues, Turkish assault has been swift and conclusive. Turkey threw in a show of force and the Kurds were quick to make peace with the Syrian government to evade further fighting.
The first censure Turkey received after entering Syria was, ironically, from the US which threatened to obliterate its economy lest it continues with the attack. The threat remained shallow for some time until the US announced sanctions against Turkey. But as things turned out, the Europeans weren’t willing to discontinue weapon supply to Turkey. The US sanctions too were eventually lifted right under the directive of Trump.
With the US out of the way, Turkey had Russia right by its side. Hours-long one-on-one negotiations between Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin resulted in a definite and to-the-point agreement on the way forward for the Syria safe zone. Militaries of both countries are now planning for joint patrols in areas where, not long ago, the US military operated with the Kurdish fighters.
Syria, remarkably, has allowed Turkey’s dominance in its own territory. Though the Syrian government, with its compromised sovereignty, is still not in a position to dictate who can do what in its pre-war borders.
Turkey has appeared as a clearly dominant player in the Middle East after almost a decade of fighting that saw allies pitched against allies in battles that baffled traditional approaches of cooperation in conflict situations.
The first significant expansion of Turkey’s territorial influence since the Ottoman empire highlights the growing sway the country has acquired in global politics. It also displays the present Turkish government’s ability to solve complex geopolitical problems when its domestic and foreign policies head in the same direction.