Unrest in Turkey and Decisions

The unrest in Turkey has nothing to do with “foreign instigation” as is claimed by PM Erdogan.

unrest-turkeyThis is the type of charge being used when a crisis is erupting in force, much to the surprise of a government which is very sure of itself, and amid the initial confusion, it is an easy outlet to scapegoat “foreigners.”

Erdogan, surely unwittingly, follows in the footsteps of no other than his biggest regional adversary Bashar Assad, who keeps blaming “foreign agents” for a civil war which has its own profound Syrian roots. Here is where the similarities between riots in Turkey and bloodshed in Syria end. Still, there is some connection and, on balance, it seems that the beneficiary this time is going to be Assad.

Predictions about the Middle East, particularly in such a volatile period are a risky business, but here is one; President Obama let it be known through leaks and behind the door intelligence briefs, that a decision to increase support to the Syrian rebels was imminent. I believe this decision may be the first casualty of the Turkish unrest.

Any move of large quantities of arms to the rebels, or even penetration of small special/ops and intelligence units requires active Turkish cooperation. Erdogan talks tough about the rioters in Taksim square, but throughout the Syrian crisis he showed in action, though not in rhetoric, a large measure of self-restraint.

He had good reasons for that behavior: the Kurdish problem and the existence of nearly a million Alawites on the Turkish side of the border with Syria. Moreover, the possible negative reaction of many Turks who might have seen a move like that as another sign of Erdogan’s ambition to become the modern-day Sultan.

Also consider Erdogan’s reserve about looking as an accomplice of American policy. Be as it may, reserve before the riots was grounded on some hard realities. The terror attack in Reyhanli some weeks ago, and exposures of pro-Iranian cells in Turkey showed possible Turkish vulnerability.

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It is likely, though not certain, that with the current wave of unrest, Erdogan is ever more cautious and reserved. Obama always showed a large measure of reserve about Syria. There may be here a meeting of interests. Bashar Assad may stand to gain. But this is the Middle East, and all that is happening is so shifty and short-lived.

Josef Olmert received his PhD at the London School of Economics, and is an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina. He has published extensively on the Middle East, and participated in Israeli-Syrian peace talks. Read other articles by Josef.