Turkey’s government is considering new military operations in Syria after suffering a decline in public support ahead of elections, former Turkish Foreign Minister Yaşar Yakış said.
The military incursions, however misguided, would aim to boost backing for the government among more nationalist voters prior to the elections scheduled for 2023, Yakış said in a column for Arab News on Monday.
“Governments sometimes make decisions that may contribute to their political survival but are against the national interests of their people,” he said.
Turkey has carried out three cross-border operations into war-torn Syria since 2016. Turkey and Turkey-backed Syrian factions have control of three different areas near the two countries’ common border – the northwestern enclave of Afrin, Idlib, and Ra’s al-Ayn.
On Oct.26, the Turkish parliament passed a motion to extend the military’s mandate to carry out cross-border operations in Iraq and Syria for two more years. First approved in 2013, the motion granted President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a longer mandate to pursue campaigns against Kurdish militants in the region, who Ankara maintains are linked to an insurgency on Turkish soil.
Turkey is now eyeing up three more areas: Manbij and Tell Rifaat in the Aleppo Governorate, and more land to the east of the Euphrates, Yakış said.
Turkey sees the YPG as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group that has fought for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for almost four decades. The PKK is designated as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Although the government is preparing for possible military action, there are also reasons to believe that the operations may not be imminent – namely Turkey’s turbulent relations with the United States and the attitude of the Syrian government, Yakış said.
On Oct. 30, Syria, which is backed politically and militarily by Russia, condemned the Turkish parliament’s decision to extend the military’s mandate “in the strongest possible terms”. It also accused Turkey of engaging in policies that have turned it into a “direct threat to peace and security in the region and the world”.
Yakış served as foreign minister of Turkey between 2002 and 2003. He is a founding member of Erdoğan’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP).