‘NATO can’t ignore Syrian attacks on Turkey’ Con Coughlin announced in The Daily Telegraph, following an October 3 Syrian-Turkish border clash. At the risk of being trite, it could hardly do otherwise following Turkey’s invocation of Article 4 in the Washington Treaty: Turkey felt its sovereignty, integrity or security was under threat; it demanded its right to discuss a response with fellow NATO members.
The consequent meeting of 28 NATO ambassadors doubtless worried many within the Syrian government and across the North Atlantic region. The beleaguered Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, beset already by a hopelessly deteriorated security situation, can ill-afford incurring western wrath. Equally, however, NATO members have little stomach for involvement in Syria – little wonder then that the meeting produced a simple condemnation of the lethal Syrian cross-border mortar attack.
Imagery of the alleged aftermath of retaliatory Turkish artillery strikes seem to show the Turks claimed their pound of flesh. This, combined with the likely high cost of any further involvement, should mitigate fears of escalation. Note that, compared to Libya’s decrepit air-defence network and near non-existent navy, Russia sold large stocks of modern anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles to Damascus. The result is a far-reaching, overlapping defence network, which no doubt caused headaches among western planners on hearing the news coming from Ankara. A comparatively simple NATO no-fly zone, for instance, would entail risk and effort far beyond any possible value to the mission.
…Syria is but one part of a growing regional destabilisation…
Accordingly, when we read that the Turkish parliament authorised its armed forces “to deploy to foreign countries in the next year,” we would be well-served to see brinkmanship rather than the march to war. But, as a prescient Royal United Services Institute briefing noted earlier this year “We are not moving towards intervention but intervention is certainly moving towards us.”
Put simply, unlike the relatively isolated Maghreb that set the scene for the Libyan intervention, Syria is but one part of a growing regional destabilisation. Syrian rebels clashed with the Lebanese Army in late September, compounding an already-uncertain security situation within Israel’s northerly neighbour. Israel itself threatens action should Syria’s reputedly sizeable chemical weapons stockpile fall into the wrong hands. Kurdish terrorists filter across the now apparently porous Syrian border with northern Iraq to attack Turkish troops – while Iraq and Iran work hard to undermine Ankara’s counter-terrorist efforts.
…Middle Eastern geopolitics are witnessing major change…
Years ago, the Jordanian King once remarked of a ‘Shia Crescent’ of Iranian influence reaching from the Levant to the Gulf of Oman. Today, we now find a ‘crescent of confrontation’ as Turkey asserts itself and the Gulf States try to roll back Persian power. Put simply, Middle Eastern geopolitics are witnessing major change. The daily violence on our screens is the consequence.
Amidst such a context Turkey, as an aspiring regional player, could be easily compelled by events into taking action to try and contain Syria’s violent fallout. (Indeed, the shelling of early October, 2012, may yet go down in history as the beginning of just such a move.) If so, as Con Coughlin remarked, NATO could definitely no longer ignore the Syrian situation.