Thursday, 16 May 2013

Damascus sends clear message to Turkey


Syrian citizens moving to safety across the border with Turkey have been caught up in more violence on the Turkish side. Two car bombings on May 11 killed at least 46 people near the town of Reyhanli. According to the Turkish government, initial evidence suggests the Syrian regime could have orchestrated the attacks. But there is still a heavy fog of ambiguity surrounding these attacks.

The perpetrators of the May 11 attacks in Reyhanli originally intended to hit Ankara, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay told journalists May 14. Thirteen suspects in the attacks have been arrested with Damascus strongly denying any involvement in the attacks. Nevertheless, Turkish leaders accused a group with links to Syrian intelligence of carrying out the car bombings. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu pointed to a Marxist organisation with ties to the administration of Syrian President Bashar al Assad as responsible.

The site of one of the explosions in Reyhanli, near
Turkey's border with Syria - IHA/Associated Press
Attacking Turkish targets, especially with car bombs of significant magnitude, while a war rages in Syria is an event dripping with meaning. The bombings could show the repercussions of Turkish support for Syrian rebels and therefore a reprisal by Syrian intelligence, but this is not to rule out the possibility of the involvement of many different groups in the Levant.

So far no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, lending credence to the accusation of Syrian government involvement. However, as the rebel groups take towns only to lose them again, those groups have sufficient reason to try to attract intervention assistance from international powers.

Trying to drag Turkey into the fight on the side of Syrian rebels would serve rebel interests to a certain extent. Ankara would look to remove any threat on their border if violence continues and that could include forcibly or diplomatically pushing back Syrian forces from the border. But if the rebels are provoking Turkey into a response by attacking Turkish targets, it is a dangerous game they are playing. There is also the security vacuum to consider along the border region. Kurdish groups, active in the region for many years, are candidates for the attacks. However, the methods used in the May 11 attacks do not appear to fit their historic tactics or capabilities.

But Damascus has motivation to dissuade Turkey from getting involved in the civil war, and launching high-profile, deadly attacks might change Ankara’s mind just in case Turkey was thinking of intervening on the side of the rebels and toppling President Bashar al Assad’s regime. While this thinking is logically sound, and the latest attacks have undoubtedly caused second-guessing in Ankara, Turkey was highly unlikely to intervene in Syria without the backing of NATO and the United States. This support is simply not present as Washington backs away from the conflict.

If Damascus did indeed orchestrate the attacks, the warning has been read loud and clear in Ankara. The message confidently states that violence can be expected if intervention is attempted. And the last thing Turkey needs is heightened instability on its southern borders, so Ankara will either scale back its assistance to the Syrian rebels or push this support further underground.


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