After Years of Friction, Turkey Is Trying to Mend Fences with Syria

In a recent statement, the Turkish foreign minister mentioned that he had an informal meeting with his Syrian counterpart last year, in which the two discussed reconciliation between their countries, and ways to resolve the Syrian civil war. This points to a sharp departure from the expressly anti-Assad position Ankara adopted when the war began in 2011, from its support for anti-Assad rebels, and from the direct clashes between Turkish and Assad-regime troops in 2020. But as ever, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s primary enemy remains the Kurdish quasi-state in northeastern Syria. Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak puts these recent developments into context:

The Turkish economy’s weakness, its growing reliance on Russia, and a drastic shift in Turkish foreign policy compelled Erdoğan to mend ties with Assad, his former adversary. . . . As a result of the war’s impasse, rising anti-Syrian sentiment in Turkey, and Turkey’s mounting economic burden over the years, Erdoğan wants to reassure his supporters that he was able to resolve the Syrian issue in time for the June 2023 elections.

Despite this strategic and economic imperative, Turkey’s engagement in the Syrian civil war is characterized by accepting Syrian refugees, supplying logistics and ammunition to opposition groups, and deploying Turkish troops into active war zones, limiting Ankara’s maneuverability.

To divert attention away from the antagonism between the two Arab parties, namely the Assad regime and the opposition, Ankara has designated the Kurdish [forces] as the common enemy against which to try to unite all belligerent Arab parties. Ankara expects that by implementing such a policy, it will be able to eradicate the challenge posed by the Kurdish . . . autonomous region along its border.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Syrian civil war, Turkey

Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy