Bashar Assad is a man of his word. In 2011, when the civil war began in Syria, President Assad delivered a promise to the international community and a threat to his neighbors: the violence will spread.
Today, Iraq is partially occupied by the Islamic State -- which can trace its beginning to the chaos of war-torn Syria -- Lebanon has been repeatedly hit by Syria-related violence, and border towns and villages along the Turkish-Syrian border have come under attack from various forces fighting in the country. Even Jordan is suffering under the weight of more than a million Syrian refugees who have created the country’s second-largest city, population-wise.
For its part, Turkey badly miscalculated, believing Assad would be gone within months, a victim of the same fate of other Arab Spring leaders.
But those who assumed Assad would fall failed to factor in Syria’s complicated internal politics. During the more than 40 years that the Assad clan has ruled Syria, they and their fellow members of the Alawite minority have so infuriated other ethnic and religious sects in the country that there can be no peaceful end to their rule. Assad cannot retire quietly to the countryside. He knows that losing power means not only losing his life, but that his entire extended family would be killed, as would all his close and even distant collaborators.
Unlike other Arab leaders who fled their country, slipping away in the dead of the night, Assad would very likely be prevented from leaving by those he would leave behind.
Besides the occasional shelling and car bombs going off in border villages, Turkey is feeling the heat from the Syrian conflict in other ways. The country that not too long ago had high hopes of becoming a full member of the European Union has had that longtime dream shattered. The manner in which Turkey is allowing IS combatants to unleash havoc on the border town of Kobani has cost Ankara heavily in the public relations domain.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is, in a manner of speaking, holding the Kurds who are defending the besieged town hostage to his foreign and domestic policies. You can rest assured that the Turkish president is not winning hearts and minds anywhere west of the Dardanelles. And Turkey’s actions, or rather its inaction where Kobani is concerned, is starting to anger other members of NATO.
At the same time, Erdogan has angered the country’s own Kurdish minority -- which constitutes roughly 18 percent of the country’s nearly 90 million citizens – by allowing the Islamic State to continue its siege and bombardment of Kobani, despite the Turkish army being deployed just a few hundred yards away.
It didn’t help matters when he called the Kurds who were defending Kobani “terrorists” just as NATO war planes were bombing IS positions to help them. He further infuriated Kurds in the southeast of the country when he ordered the air force to attack positions of the PKK, the Kurdish Workers Party, which Ankara considers a terrorist organization.
Turkey has also painted itself in somewhat of a corner, diplomatically speaking, because in the past, it allowed IS fighters to transit its territory, during which time they set up cells that could be easily activated. It is almost certain that if Turkey makes a “wrong move,” IS or Syrian agents inside the country will take action.
There is indeed much at stake, not only for Turkey, but for Europe, which gets much of its oil through Turkey via a network of pipelines from Qatar, Azerbaijan, and Iraqi Kurdistan -- any of which would make an easy target for a group wishing to cause trouble. And we know there is no shortage of those.
By Claude Salhani of Oilprice.com
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