Idlib: An Uphill Battle for Turkey

The killing of 33 Turkish soldiers in air raids in Syria’s Idlib province is likely to prove a major blow for President Tayyip Erdogan, who has made up his mind to lock horns with Russia in Syria. Turkey has been pushed towards a frontline war with Northern Syria by its Western allies without knowing the consequences of this unending battle.

Four Turkish political parties in the Turkish parliament issued a joint statement to condemn this attack by signing a statement of political means solution based on international law to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the region.

Turkish President Erdogan asked Putin “to get out of the way” and let the Turkish troops deal with Syrian President Bashar Assad. The United States and Russia used their full strength in Syria, and finally, the US stepped back, failing to down the Assad government in Syria. Turkey is demanding the same thing to replace the United States’ role in Syria while challenging Russian interests in Idlib.

Turkish wrath is serious; it has been widely shared on social media. Who did Turkey hold responsible for the killing of 33 Turkish troops? Is it Syria or Russia? Will Turkey confront Russia in Syria directly? These questions are now in everyone’s mind. Who will be the target of the Turkish wrath? These questions are still unanswered.

Before the Syrian crisis, Turkey enjoyed excellent relations with all Arab countries and had strategic cooperation councils with the majority of them. Because of ex-Turkish policies that relayed on zero problems with the neighbors, now everything is different and Turkey is facing challenges not only with its neighbors but with everyone.

The problems of Turkish president mounted after the Arab spring because his Ottoman dreams had awakened, he thinks that he can rebuild the Ottoman Empire, which ruled the majority of Arabic countries for about 400 years. Syria was the greatest failure for Erdogan, this substantial failure was heard inside Turkey, when a military coup took place against him on July 15, 2016. At that time, Putin helped him to survive, although of course, such help wasn’t for nothing. Putin thought to himself that a weak Erdogan is better than another strong army ruler, and Erdogan may help him in Syria. Still, after four years, Erdogan changed his mind, which caused Putin to become rather upset and angry with him.

Turkey has been rolling between its Western allies and Russia for the past several years. Turkey is not a stable partner and is a bit confused about choosing its strategic interests in various regions. Physically located between East and West, Turkish foreign policy is also hanging between the East and West.

If we take a look at the recent developments and track record of Turkey, it is very interesting. Turkey shot down a Russian SU-24 jet in 2015, after which we witnessed very tense relations between Turkey and Russia. Soon after this, Russian tourists stopped visiting Turkey, which resulted in a substantial financial loss to Turkey. Russians tourists are top of the list of any other nationality visiting Turkey with 6.9 million visitors and a 16 per cent share in total foreign tourists. Therefore, Turkey should keep in mind that any major confrontation with Russia severely affects the Turkey tourism sector and is damaging for the already ramshackle Turkish economy. There have been several phases of bitter ties between Russia and Turkey. Still, on the purchasing of S-400 missiles, Turkey went to a very tense level of ties with the United States (US), but again Turkey is favourite for its Western allies, so the west takes it as like contumacy.

Despite the major conflicts with the US and now with Russia, Turkey wants both Russian S-400 missiles and US, F-35. Again it’s a strange demand that Erdogan wants to be fulfilled, but a brilliant choice if Turkey wants to hit back the US. In that case, they must have an F-35, and if they confront Russian in Idlib, then they have S-400 missiles.

Turkey and Erdogan have a diversity of foes and friends. Turkey believes in making friends with those who are the foes of their opponents, but that does not work in call cases. Sometimes Turkey’s enemies are Turkey’s friends, and Turkey’s friends are Turkey’s enemies. Like in the current scenario, Turkey is considering having joint operations with Israel; nevertheless, Israel is on the top of the list of Turkish foes. Erdogan used Israel’s rhetoric for applauding inside and outside Turkey.

Turkey has been actively involved in numerous fronts, lobbying inside Muslim blocs to take over the Muslim world leadership role.

Many countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and even Turkey’s NATO allies are waiting for this moment to see Turkey in troubled waters in Syria. Both fear to see Erdogan trying to realize his dream of the rein of the Ottoman Empire. However, it would be tough to revive the Ottoman era: the West is concerned about Erdogan’s various speeches with hints about that.

At this stage, the situation in Northern Syria is interesting, and any aggressive move might lead to a serious battle.

Following the air raids at Turkish troops, prospects of a direct military confrontation between Turkey and Russia are very high. Amidst the prevailing scenario, tensions between the two sides are alarmingly high, although both sides are looking for their respective stakes. As per available indicators, the two countries are ready for de-escalation to some extent, but the risk of an incidental escalation is more substantial than expected.