How Far Will the War in Syria Spread?

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Middle East Policy Council

The conflict in Syria continues to be a source of instability in the region. This week’s bombing in Ankara, said to be organized and executed by Kurdish separatists operating out of Syria, coupled with Russia’s ever-increasing military aid to the Assad regime and Iran’s attempting to create a sphere of influence in the region have made it more likely that the war will spread further. Turkey and Saudi Arabia have made their displeasure clear, with both of them vowing to take specific military action to redress some of their concerns, including creating a military alliance to counter the Iranian-led one.

To begin with, this week saw the UAE’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York single out Iran as a destabilizing factor in the region, adding that should it want to demonstrate its peaceful intentions, it ought to start by respecting the territorial sovereignty of its neighbors: “The UAE believes in coexistence and is committed to play a positive role in ushering peace and security in the region. In the same spirit, the UAE has called on Iran to make a serious commitment to act as a responsible member of the world community, and to desist from aiding extremist elements in the region….The UAE’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, Lana Zaki Nusseibeh, said that a major cause of instability in the Middle East was the ‘rise in the rampant use of force against the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of states.’ Iran’s occupation of Thumb islands and its obsession to meddle in the internal affairs of other states, such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, are cases in point.”

With Syrian-based Kurdish forces accused of being behind the Ankara blast, the likelihood that Turkey will become further involved in the Syrian conflict has increased considerably. But not everyone is excited about that prospect, nor do they think such a move is advisable, which explains in part this Khaleej Times editorial: “Ankara’s desire to take on the separatist Kurds is posing as its biggest security detriment. At a time when Turkey should focus its energies on fighting Daesh, its eagerness to open two fronts simultaneously is worrisome. Reports say Turkish forces shelled the Menagh airbase, which was seized on Thursday from Syrian rebels by a Kurdish militia group known as the YPG. This action in northern Syria is likely to have serious repercussions….Turkey is in a fix, and is unable to clearly chalk out its priorities. This is evident from the geopolitical task that it has assigned itself by vowing to dislodge President Bashar Al Assad in Damascus. At the same time, it is at war with Daesh and the Kurds. Ankara should take stock of changing ground realities in the wake of Russian involvement in Syria and the lackluster military response from the West. There is no room for any misadventure at home and on the international frontiers.”

Meanwhile, according to this Arab News report, the Saudis are attempting to signal the seriousness of their intention to take on Assad and Iran by leading a military maneuver: “North Thunder, the ongoing military maneuver in Saudi Arabia, is a message to the world that the Kingdom will not be a passive observer to the massacres of civilians and mayhem in Syria and Iran’s ambitions in the region, political observers have said….Twenty Arab and Muslim countries and the GCC-formed Peninsula Shield are participating in the drill, led by Saudi Arabia….Political observers and experts said the military exercise aims at delivering certain indirect messages at the regional and international levels, along with reaching a high level of readiness among the participating armed forces. The stage chosen for the exercise, Hafr Al-Batin in northern Saudi Arabia, adjacent to Iraq, near Iran and Syrian is also a strategic move they said.”

The military training comes in the same week during which the Turkish foreign minister made the most explicit statement to date about the possibility of Turkish and Saudi troops becoming involved in the Syrian theater: “Turkey and Saudi Arabia could launch a ground operation against Daesh terrorists in Syria, the Turkish foreign minister said Saturday, adding the Kingdom was already sending jets to a Turkish base to attack the extremists. The coordinated plans by Riyadh and Ankara, who are pursuing an increasingly tight alliance, add a new element to the situation in Syria where Russia has been backing a regime offensive against rebels….“If there is a strategy (against Daesh) then Turkey and Saudi Arabia could enter into a ground operation,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying by the Yeni Safak and Haberturk newspapers after taking part in the Munich Security Conference.”

Turkey, which in a statement posted by Qatari daily The Peninsula has been keen to show its support for other countries in the region, “praised the level of relations between the Republic of Turkey and Qatar, which he described as “deep-rooted and good.” In his keynote speech today before deputies of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) on Turkish foreign relations with the countries of the region and the latest developments in the Middle East, especially in Syria, Davutoglu said that Ankara has deep-rooted and strong relations with the State of Qatar. He pointed out that his country has taken measures to protect its border with Syria, stressing that Turkey will continue to support the oppressed in order to raise their voices to the world.”

Hurriyet Daily News’ Murat Yetkin suggests that by seeking allies for its ground operation, Turkey is signaling to Putin and Assad that Turkey they will not go unchallenged in Syria: “The most interesting news of yesterday (Feb. 16) was about a statement by an unnamed Turkish official who said the government was “asking allies” about the possibility of a land operation into Syria. The official reportedly said Turkey would only get involved in such an operation if it was “with allies.”…Turkish-Russian tension in the Syria theater is a concern of international community. The U.S. has asked both countries to talk their problems out, but that is a long way from the mood right now in Ankara. Addressing his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) parliamentary group in on Feb. 16, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu denounced the Russian air strikes as “vile, cruel and barbaric.”…For the time being, the chances of a NATO-sponsored ground operation into Syria are not high. But Turkey has tried to stress that any deal struck by the U.S. and Russia that bypasses or ignores the concerns of Turkey – which has a 910 km border with Syria – might fail, with serious consequences for everyone.”

Then there are those like Sami Jamil Jadallah, who, according to Saudi Gazette’s Tariq  Al-Maeena, are striving to put forward a message of peace, amidst the doom and gloom of suffering and bellicose statements: “Sami Jamil Jadallah, the founder and executive director of the New Arab Foundation, is alarmed at the current direction of the Arab world which he feels is ‘in deep, deep trouble,’ especially in hotspots such as Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya and Sudan….In a fresh approach, Sami Jadallah believes the tide toward destruction can be stemmed….He explains that the Arab Peace Corps would then work ‘toward implementing development programs for marginalized communities not only in the Arab world but in Europe, the US and Canada. Transforming the power and innocence of youth into positive, self-reinforcing contributions for the better good of themselves and their society will increase their sense of belonging to their community, society and nation.’”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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