The rise and fall of Turkey's Erdogan
Israel's emergence from the woodwork can signal only one thing: the Syrian crisis is moving towards the decisive phase. The lights have been switched on in the operation theatre and the carving of Syria is beginning. What is going to follow won't be a pretty sight at all since the patient is not under anesthesia, and the chief surgeon prefers to lead from behind while sidekicks do the dirty job.
So far, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have done the maximum they could to destabilize Syria and remove the regime headed byIsrael's emergence from the woodwork can signal only one thing: the Syrian crisis is moving towards the decisive phase. The lights have been switched on in the operation theatre and the carving of Syria is beginning. What is going to follow won't be a pretty sight at all since the patient is not under anesthesia, and the chief surgeon prefers to lead from behind while sidekicks do the dirty job.
So far, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have done the maximum they could to destabilize Syria and remove the regime headed byPresident Bashar al-Assad. But Bashar is still holding out. Israeli expertise is now needed to complete the unfinished business.
Someone is needed to plunge a sharp knife deep into Bashar's back. Jordan's king can't do the job; he measures up only to Bashar's knees. The Saudi and Qatari sheikhs with their ponderous, flabby body are not used to physical activity; the North Atlantic Treaty Organization prefers to be left alone, having burnt its fingers in Libya with a bloody operation that borders on war crime. That leaves Turkey.
In principle, Turkey has the muscle power, but intervention in Syria is fraught with risks and one of the enduring legacies of Kemal Ataturk is that Turkey avoids taking risks. Besides, Turkey's military is not quite in top form.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also unable to carry the majority opinion within Turkey in favor of a war in Syria, and he is navigating a tricky path himself, trying to amend his country's constitution and make himself a real sultan - as if French President Francois Hollande were to combine the jobs of Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Socialist Party chief Martine Aubry.
Obviously, Erdogan can't risk his career. Besides, there are imponderables - a potential backlash from the Alawite minority within Turkey (which resents the surge of Salafism under Erdogan's watch) and the perennial danger of walking into a trap set up by militant Kurds.
Al-Jazeera interviewed a leader of the Alawite sect in Turkey last week who expressed concern over the increasingly sectarian tone of Syria's internal strife inspired by Salafist Sunnis. They fear a Salafist surge within Turkey. The Alawites in Turkey see Assad "trying to hold together a tolerant, pluralist Syria".
But all that is becoming irrelevant. The New York Times reported on Friday, quoting American officials in Washington, that US President Barack Obama is "increasing aid to the rebels and redoubling efforts to rally a coalition of like-minded countries to forcibly bring down the [Syrian] government".
It further reported that the CIA operatives who are based in southern Turkey "for several weeks" will continue with their mission to create violence against the Syrian regime. Meanwhile, the US and Turkey will also be working on putting together a post-Assad "provisional government" in Syria.
Accordingly, the leaders of Syria's proscribed Muslim Brotherhood held a four-day conclave in Istanbul and announced plans on Friday to create an "Islamic party". "We are ready for the post-Assad era, we have plans for the economy, the courts, politics", the Brotherhood's spokesman announced.
The New York Times said Washington is in close contact with Ankara and Tel Aviv to discuss "a broad range of contingency plans" over "how to manage a Syrian government collapse".
The emergent operational plan is that while Ankara steps up the covert operations inside Syria (bankrolled by Saudi Arabia and Qatar), Israel will cross the border into Syria from the south and attack Bashar's military and degrade its capacity to resist the Turkish threat.
Turkey has stepped up the psywar, projecting through the media that the Syrian regime is already tottering. Turkish commentators are spreading the word. Murat Yetkin of the establishment daily Hurriyet quoted a Turkish official as saying,
Our people [Turkish intelligence] in the field are observing that the urban majority, which has preferred to remain neutral so far, has begun to support the opposition groups. We think the Syrian people have begun to perceive that the administration is breaking up.
But such riveting stories also reflect the Turkish establishment's worry that the Syrian regime is still not showing signs of capitulation despite all the hits it took from the "rebels".
Mission to Moscow
Erdogan's best hope is that the Turkish intelligence could orchestrate some sort of "palace coup" in Damascus in the coming days or weeks. What suits Ankara will be to have Bashar replaced by a transitional structure that retains elements of the existing Baathist state structure, which could facilitate an orderly transfer of power to a new administration - that is to say, ideally, a transition not different from what followed in Egypt once Hosni Mubarak exited.
But Erdogan is unsure whether Turkey can swing an Egypt-like coup in Damascus. His dash to Moscow last Wednesday aimed at sounding out Moscow if a new and stable transitional structure could be put together in Damascus through some kind of international cooperation. (Obama lent his weight to Erdogan's mission by telephoning Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday to discuss Syria.)
But curiously, just before Erdogan went into his scheduled meeting with Putin in the Kremlin, a massive terrorist attack took place in Damascus, killing the the Syrian defense minister and its intelligence chief. In the event, Moscow politely heard him out and assured Erdogan it would make a clinical separation between Russia's long-term strategic ties with Turkey and the Syrian issue. At any rate, the Russian stance remained unchanged, as evident from its veto at the United Security Council a week later.
Clearly, Moscow sees that the end game is underway in Syria. In an interview with the Russia Today on Friday, Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, spoke in exceptionally strong terms about what is happening. He said the Western strategy is to "whip us tensions in and around Syria at every opportunity".
Churkin said derisively, "There is much more geopolitics in their policy in Syria than humanism." Churkin also brought in Iran: "I would not rule out that then they would move on to Iran ... And this growing tension between Iran, the West and the Saudis is not helpful."
Prior to the visit to Moscow, Erdogan also travelled to Beijing, which also senses that the US is closing the deal on Syria. The Global Times newspaper commented in an editorial on Friday that "It's likely that the Assad administration will be overthrown ... chances of a political solution are becoming increasingly small ... changes in Syria might come rapidly."
US National Security Advisor Tom Donilon is travelling to Beijing to explore if the Chinese stance on Syria can be moderated.(...)