While it is impossible to know with any certainty, Gershon Hacohen surmises that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not expect his invasion of Syrian Kurdistan to lead Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies to advance into nearby areas. If so, Ankara inadvertently handed Moscow a victory:
For Erdogan, the return of Assad’s forces to northeastern Syria posed an unanticipated dilemma. In embarking on war, the Turkish tyrant expected a short and simple campaign at the end of which the Kurdish autonomy would be destroyed. But when the Syrian forces entered the arena, with Russian support, matters got complicated, and he had a hard time seeing how he could end the campaign as he had envisioned. Putin, in inviting Erdogan to Sochi [for the summit last week that led to a partial cease-fire], offered him a lifeline—an escape hatch to ending the war honorably. With that intervention [Putin] became the actor holding the key to halting the campaign and bringing about regional stability amid the labyrinth of interests of all the forces involved.
Although the U.S. still sees itself as holding the key to a regional settlement, the lock has been changed, and it is Putin who holds the new key to fostering regional stability. In the new reality, the foundation on which the regional arrangements have been built since the peace treaty with Egypt—that is, American dominance—is changing and even starting to crack. When the key to ending the war is in the hands of the Russians, the chance of its ending with a diplomatic agreement congenial to Israel is slim.
Moreover, argues Hacohen, there is an important lesson for Jerusalem to learn from this episode:
An effective foreign and defense policy requires identifying and exploiting opportunities even in events that are not connected to a direct existential interest. . . . In the course of the Syrian civil war, Israel avoided a proactive policy of that kind, orienting both its overt and covert actions to a clear defensive purpose. . . . The conclusion is clear: an actor that does not dare to join the fray, not even to demonstrate a presence and exploit emerging opportunities, will be reduced to watching the event from the sidelines.