This week’s print issue of The Economist argues that despite the huge risks involved, the time has come for the West and the Arabs to intervene in Syria. In this Newsbook post we take a look at the Arabic press over the past week, where debate has focused on whether, amid heightened tensions with Turkey, Syria’s crisis has entered a more dangerous phase that could lead to a broader conflict in the region.
Egypt’s state-run daily, Al Ahram, warns that “Bashar’s war” has now put the entire Middle East at risk:
The sirens warning of the danger of the outbreak of a regional war in the Middle East are cause for concern. All the powers involved in the Syrian crisis are in a state of alert, if not a state of readiness. The shells of Bashar’s war against the Syrian people struck the border regions of Turkey, and the Turkish response was swift.
When the Syrian shooting did not stop, Turkey’s government received the green light from parliament allowing the army to silence Syria’s guns, and this points to the likelihood of an outbreak of clashes between Ankara and Damascus along the border, or perhaps across the border.
Writing in the pan-Arab Elaph, Khurchid Dali also sees storm clouds gathering, but notes Turkey’s delicate domestic and international situation:
Ergodan […] thinks that the American position after the elections will not stay as it is, and thus the remaining time before the elections is a chance to prepare for the possibility of war, to build support at home, and gather regional and international support—particularly with NATO, which has recently reaffirmed its intention to stand beside Ankara. Between Erdogan’s push to topple the Syrian regime and fresh preparations for clashes, it appears that a confrontation between Turkey and Syria is inevitable.
Zein Al Shami, writing in the Kuwaiti Al Rai, argues that given recent military incidents and the worsening refugee crisis, the threat has now spread to all of Syria’s neighbours:
The chances of the Syrian fire spreading to these bordering countries appears today, especially in light of recent events and the deterioration of the security situation, more likely than at any time in the past. This calls for serious regional cooperation to put an end to the crisis and remove the regime of President Bashar Assad, whose danger now exceeds that of just killing the Syrian people. Regional stability today is tied to the speed with which [Syria’s neighbouring] countries work to put an end to what is happening in Syria. It is now an internal problem and a matter of national security for these countries.
Not all commentators are convinced of the inevitability of further escalations, however. Writing in the Jordanian Ad Dustour, Oraid Al Rantawi cautions against over-interpreting recent border incidents:
I don’t think that it is in the interests of the regime in Syria to be dragged into a war with its northern neighbour, as Turkey overshadows Syria in strength, numbers, weapons, and training, not to mention that Syria’s army is exhausted after a year and a half of protracted warfare with the armed opposition. The regime in Damascus knows better than anyone that a war with Turkey would lead at best to the establishment of an isolated zone that cuts off northern Syria from the centre. At worst, it would lead to the complete collapse of the regime.
In the left-leaning Lebanese daily As Safir, Mohamed Nour Al Deen argues that the “growing confusion” in Turkey’s approach to Syria is the end of Turkey’s “strategic depth” foreign policy, and is having a negative impact on its relations with both Europe and the Middle East.
It is regrettable that Turkey, at the outset of the 21st century, has reverted to what it was in the days of the Ottoman Empire at the outset of the 20th century: a “sick man” needing care, and quickly deteriorating in the twilight years of its life. The Ottoman Empire was the sick man of Europe, and now Turkey has become the “sick man of the Middle East”.
Just as you see in the missing person announcements, Turkish foreign policy “went out for a walk and never came back”. Indeed, Turkey’s idea of “strategic depth”, which it attempted in vain, went out for a walk with Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbours” policy, and has now been replaced by a policy of regime change and support for various opposition groups in Syria.