Once again in Syria, Turkey warned of a looming military incursion and Washington caved in the face of a threat, said an analysis for the Jerusalem Post.
“For several days, Turkey did what it has done before, it threatened to launch a military operation against partners of the U.S.-led coalition in Syria,” columnist Seth Frantzman wrote for JP on Thursday. “This sent the U.S. scrambling to find a way out of the crisis, a crisis fueled by Turkey’s own timeline where Ankara dictates to Washington.”
Last fall, said Franzman, Ankara threatened to attack eastern Syria, even clashing with border posts of the mainly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the main U.S. partner in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS). In response, U.S. President Donald Trump decided to withdraw from Syria.
“Just like that the U.S. decided to fold up three years of a successful war against ISIS in Syria and leave,” said Frantzman.
In the end, the U.S. stayed in Syria, Turkey held elections and ISIS was officially defeated this past March. Now the crisis begins again, as Ankara beat the war drums to give Turkish people another reason to rally around the flag, according to Frantzman.
“This comes just after Turkey began to take delivery of the Russian S-400 air defense system. That isn’t a coincidence,” said Frantzman, pointing out Washington was considering how to sanction Turkey yet has now reached an agreement about a safe zone.
Turkey understands, much like Iran and Russia and China, that the U.S. respects strength and threats generally result in compromise, according to Frantzman. Like the joint patrols the United States committed to around Manbij, an area Turkey also threatened, Washington committed to the rapid implementation of steps to address Turkey’s concerns, including the creation of a joint operations center in Turkey to oversee the safe zone and build a “peace corridor”.
For Turkey, this is the third stage in Syria, following Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016 and Operation Olive Branch in Afrin last year, Ankara gains control of the entire border area dozens of kilometers deep into Syria.
“From Ankara’s perspective this is the best of both worlds,” said Frantzman. The U.S. is leaving eastern Syria or helping manage a Turkish operation in which pressure from refugees and rebel groups can be used against the SDF.
Meanwhile, the deal cements closer relations with Russia and should satisfy Turkish nationalists who seek an independent foreign policy, according to Frantzman.
“Turkey gambled it could push the U.S. and gain influence through the S-400 with Russia,” said Frantzman. “So far Ankara has played its cards well. U.S. partners on the ground must be wondering what the latest statements about joint operations and a corridor mean.”