Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rarely wastes an opportunity to ignite more conflicts in the Middle East. Erdogan’s latest incursion into Syria has left little shadow of doubt about the Turkish president’s expansionary ambitions in the region and his desire to restore an archaic caliphate befitting his affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood group, which sees this caliphate as an ultimate goal.
Erdogan’s latest military campaign, ironically labelled “Olive Branch”, has seen Turkish forces invading northern Syria and attacking the Syrian Kurdish population in the town of Afrin in order to tackle terrorists there, according to Erdogan’s claims. This major offensive has utilised air bombardments, heavy artillery and a fully-fledged ground invasion by tanks and infantry.
The campaign, launched on 17 January, marks the epitome of Turkey’s series of interventions in the Syrian Civil War, which it has been fuelling for the past seven years in an attempt to take down Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and establish a client Islamist regime. It comes as no surprise that the Muslim Brotherhood group in Syria has welcomed the invasion of its own country. It has shown support for the invasion and blamed the Kurds for their attempt to “divide the country”.
Turkey has constantly supported Islamists of different sorts abroad, and it was a constant supporter of the ill-fated Islamic State (IS) group. The latter, as is well known, has wreaked havoc on the entire region, and its fighters have found safe passage through Syria as well as an easy getaway after being besieged by Syrian and Iraqi forces in Syria and Iraq. Russian intelligence has documented that the Turkish border with Syria has seen countless smuggling operations of oil products from Iraqi oilfields sold on the black market to traders in Turkey.
Operation “Olive Branch” has already claimed the lives of over 1,000 Kurds and caused the deportation of over 16,000 civilians, according to a US CNN report. The Turkish regime has declared that the aim is to destroy the Kurdish groups and IS operating in northern Syria, and it has plans to expand the offensive to the Syrian city of Idlib, completely disregarding Syrian sovereignty and international law.
The operation has also come at a high price for the Turkish army, which has already lost over 20 soldiers and a military helicopter. Some 115 of the Turks’ Syrian allies have also been killed in battle. However, the real victims have been Syrian civilians, who have been facing shelling and bombardments by the Turkish forces, and there have been reports of the Turkish army shooting fleeing civilians attempting to run for their lives.
The Turkish army has been decimated recently by Erdogan, with patriotic and secularist commanders finding themselves facing court martial and being replaced by pro-Erdogan military men supporting his expansionist dreams of a new caliphate. Domestically, the Turkish security apparatus has practiced its favourite hobby of silencing dissidents, and it has already arrested some 310 journalists, politicians and activists who objected to the Turkish invasion of northern Syria.
The Turkish minister of interior justified these arrests by accusing those concerned of “spreading terrorist propaganda”. This accusation has often been made by the Erdogan regime against the country’s opposition since the failed coup d’état in Turkey in July 2016, and the massive purge that followed has targeted hundreds of thousands of Turkish citizens to date.
Egypt was the first country to denounce the Turkish invasion of Syria as a clear violation of Syrian sovereignty. Countries such as the United States and France informed the Turkish regime of their disapproval, calling for restraint and the ceasing of the operation. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian blasted the Turkish invasion for violating international law and called upon the Turkish forces to retreat, saying “don’t add war to war” in Syria. Erdogan’s actions are escalating a dying civil war that was on the verge of reaching its last chapter by the defeat of jihadist factions such as IS and Jabhat Al-Sham at the hands of the Syrian government and the International coalition.
Turkey’s president seems adamant about leading his nation into an abyss of turmoil, war and dictatorship. His regime now poses a threat to the security of an already troubled region. Erdogan is systematically turning his nation into a liability for the European Union and NATO, as his policies are leading to nothing but further bloodshed and further war. Erdogan’s bullish attitude has even led him to threaten the US with severing bilateral ties over the case of a jailed banker who exposed a web of corrupt politicians close to the Turkish president. He has accused the US of undermining his country’s economy in a desperate attempt to blame it for the falling Turkish currency, which hit its lowest value in 2017.
Erdogan’s stance today is hardly different from that of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, with the exception that his country is a member of NATO, meaning that he can escape criminal prosecution and international condemnation. However, this situation may not last, since should he continue on his path of destruction, ignoring international law, the Turkish nation may find itself paying a hefty price for electing this tyrant in 2003.
It may be time for peace-loving countries everywhere and for the international community to take Erdogan’s unrelenting aggression more seriously, remembering the ancient proverb that “aggression unchallenged is aggression unleashed.”
The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.
*This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly