As we know, the position of NATO member countries is against the ongoing atrocities in Syria, and they want the ousting of President Bashar al-Assad. Russia’s position is more ambiguous, as even if it may tolerate Assad’s eviction, it definitely wants to preserve its influence over Syria. At the same time, Russia has tense relations with NATO even though Moscow is quite careful in its relationship with Turkey.
In this complicated context, we may first suggest that Syria’s latest action against Turkey has put Russia in a difficult position, but the latter may use this crisis as an opportunity to reshuffle cards and get rid of Assad, who has progressively become a burden for Russia’s strategic interests. Multiple Russian signals indicate that it doesn’t oppose a change of government in Damascus as long as it preserves its military presence in the country; that’s why Russians may see Turkey as the lesser evil in dealing with Assad.
However, a unanimous decision within NATO and the EU still does not exist concerning how to deal with Syria. Almost every Western country is in favor of a regime change in the country, but none of them is willing to intervene militarily to make that happen. Besides, the Western capitals seem exhausted from trying to convince Russia. That’s why they keep telling Turkey to “go first,” as anyone can see by reading the Western press.
The recent incident has the real potential to provoke a bilateral confrontation between Syria and Turkey. The strangest part of the story is how Syria could do such a thing without calculating the consequences. There are a number of possibilities: Maybe Assad wasn’t the one who gave the strike order; maybe he was misguided; maybe it was a genuine military mistake; or maybe the Turkish jet had been deliberately provocative. To put it more simply: Either Syria has made a mistake by itself or it is Turkey that has pushed Syria to make this mistake.
Should Turkey be the one that set this trap, we suppose that Ankara already has an action plan. We don’t know what this plan may be, but we have observed a serious effort to assure international legitimacy. But if Syria has committed this mistake on its own, then we suppose Turkey is right now very busy readying plans. These plans must be prepared in coordination with Turkey’s partners. Moreover, Turkey must be very cautious in order not to make mistakes or to fall into traps set by others.
The swiftest way to resolve this crisis is to make Syria apologize and to pay compensation. It is not easy, however, for Assad to present excuses to Turkey, knowing that the latter wants him out unequivocally. The ball is now in Syria’s court, but the game is too delicate and the outcome may bring too many risks for the region’s future.
History teaches us that global balances of power change whenever there is a fracture along eastern Mediterranean fault lines. There are serious and simultaneous tremors in Iraq, Egypt and Syria, and the aftershocks will soon affect other countries. What is going on between Turkey and Syria proves that the aftershocks are growing, indicating the beginning of the process that will restructure the power balance in the eastern Mediterranean, thus the global balance of power.
What is unfortunate is the other truth history teaches us: Whenever there is a change in the global balance of power, there is a bloodbath.