Turkey finds in Qatar an Arab ally to resist challenges in Iraq and Syria

The post-Cold war environment in the Middle East was further marked with failure of nation states to modernize without falling back to authoritarian rule. The early 2000s witness increased interest of the Republican neo-con administration in Washington that had set to reform regional dynamics on its agenda for the Middle East. Globalization and promotion of democratic norms, often with disregard with local political and social characteristics, made US administration to look for allies in regional political forces that were enjoying legitimacy and trust of the American political elites.

With the Justice and Development party at the helm, Turkey since 2002 has been demonstrating an increasing interest in the Middle East affairs. Turkish moderate Islamist and allied political elites by then had already established good relations with American decision-makers, mainly through close cooperation in the Central Asia and the Balkans, where US administration needed partners who would be embraced by local actors as promoters of positive changes and legitimate trust-worthy.

The Arab Spring events offered a great opportunity for the Western interests to promote democratic agenda as part of positive changes. Within this framework, international community was paying much attention to applicability of the Turkish model of democratic government in a Muslim-majority society. Skepticism on success of such endeavour prevailed when both events in the Middle East led to deeper armed and political crisis in major countries of the region and destabilization of political situation in Turkey itself in 2013.

Turkey and Qatar have been most vocal supporters of changes in the region, claiming that public participation in political process must be further supported from the outside. Both states have been enjoying relations since 1972, since the early 2000s political leadership in both states has been expressing vocal support for deepening of mutual ties. Political solidarity on multiple regional issues was further reinforces by desire to include military cooperation. Since 2002 Turkey and Qatar have been involved in technical and arms deals with the biggest contract so far signed in 2017 on deliveries of Turkish armored vehicles for Qatari army.

Since 2014 we can witness increasing defence cooperation as well: both states signed agreement to expand their relations to mutual military assistance and establish first Turkish military facilities in Qatar. Military presence was reinforced by establishment of the High-level Strategic Cooperation Council in January 2015. In 2017 Turkish officials signaled that Turkey and Qatar, taking into account regional dynamics, agreed to expand Turkish military base and increase its capacity to host naval, air and ground forces with hosting of up to 5000 Turkish Army servicemen.

Our decision to take the case of Turkish military base as a case in our study of Turkish strategic culture is dictated by desire to show what factors contributed to this step. The international setting for the move could be a primary area of interest. Turkish-Qatari rapprochement has been proceeding on the background of rapidly declining US desire to commit more attention and resources to the Middle Eastern affairs. On other hand, American political establishment has been trying since 2008 to establish network of alliances among regional actors to counter-balance radicalism and Iranian influence in the region, especially in areas where US and Israeli interest are at stake. Primary spheres of US interest is stability in the Gulf, a main trade route for oil supplies to the global economy.

In this sense, Turkish ruling political elites would like to secure positive relations with the Western world by increasing its capacity as a regional actor. Turkey is interested in developing hard power capacity in critical areas of the Middle East. This would give Ankara not only tools to influence its relations with the West, by attaining greater utility, it also would improve diplomatic and soft-power arsenal of Turkey. This logic is evidence by coherence observed in decisions to establish physical presence in other critical spots like Somali or Iraq.

Speaking about relevance of the military-civilian relations in Turkey as a factor for decision to establish presence in the Middle East, we should notice that this policy has been maturing during the process of democratization in Turkey. On the one hand, Turkish military would like to have improve capacity for power projection in the region for the sake of improving capacity to better react and withstand challenges to Turkish national security in its proximity like Syria, Iraq or Iran. On the other hand, we should remember that these decisions were made by political elites, therefore, fundamental reasons for expansion of military bases in the Middle East must be looked for in the realms of domestic politics.

Deeper involvement of Turkey in the political process of the Middle East has become a cornerstone of the AKP foreign policy. The decision to establish military base in Qatar was criticized by Turkish political opposition as a move that would hurt Ankara's role as an unbiased and impartial mediator. For the ruling party, however, this initiative would symbolize increasing role of Turkey as an independent regional power who can challenge existing setting and promote national interests in accordance with its ideological view. It is, furthermore, important to underline here that Turkey has been investing in Qatar's security because two nations together can better handle challenges by aligning their potentials. Having an Arab ally behind its back, Turkey would have more opportunities to determine environment in its neighbouring Arab countries like Iraq and Syria.

The case of Turkish military case reveals that today military-civil arrangements have change and clear way for purely civilian political considerations over power use abroad. This case showed first example of power use beyond Turkey's geopolitical environment. We should, however, interpret this decision as an attempt to improve Turkey's non-military capacity for influence in its neighbourhood. Witnessing further US decline in the region, rise of instability on Turkish borders where traditional state fail to provide security and rising differences on security priorities between Turkey and its traditional Western allies prompt Ankara to find better opportunities and develop alternative ties via regional security arrangements that would make use of power on Turkish borders less essential.


Guardian of the nation. Why does divided Turkish society support a military operation in Syrian Afrin?

If you, when dealing with the Turkish democracy, want to know political process, you can investigate public opinion about the nation's president Recep Erdogan. The figure of the head of the Turkish state does not leave anyone indifferent: any topic of political life in Turkey, which becomes the object of attention of this charismatic and ambitious politician, automatically becomes another point of social split and lively discussions.

Already two years Turkey with state measures is struggling with supporters of a terrorist organization that supposedly stood behind an unsuccessful coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Despite the fact that radical measures are justified by security interests and the scale of threats, a significant part of the Turkish society thinks that today Erdogan has a legitimate reason for once again to suppress the dissent votes and put the courts under its control.

Another hotly discussed issue in Turkey is the reform of education. The government has been trying for several years to reform the school system, taking into account the need to train a highly skilled workforce in the country for an increasingly globalized economy. It would seem that in Turkey, these reforms should enjoy broad support in society, because all would benefit from the success of reforms. But even here one can observe discontent among the broad masses: government reform, as often as possible, is nothing more than the purposeful destruction of secular education.

Erdogan's foreign policy is no less discussed in Turkish society. Six years after the beginning of Ankara's active intervention in the civil war in neighbouring Syria, Erdogan, the main supporter of Turkey's military intervention in the conflict, can not boast of any serious diplomatic victories. Turkey is forced to provide more than 3 million Syrian refugees at its own expense, and the main object of criticism of the Turkish government, Syrian President Bashar Assad is still in power.

Surprisingly, against the background of such a strong polarization of the Turkish society, the military operation in Syria, launched on January 20 against Syrian Kurds in the Afrin area, was supported by the majority of Turkish citizens. According to the poll of the Turkish company ORC, 80% of the respondents supported the military operation "Olive Branch" in Syria. Government support was also expressed by the main opposition party of the country.

It seems that the operation caused both citizens and political forces to forget about the disputes and unite around the leadership of the country in an hour of difficulty. Obviously, the international situation played a significant role in this. The Turkish government has been trying for several years from the US to stop cooperation with the Democratic Union Party, a Syrian political organization that operates under the leadership of the Turkish terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party. The fact that the US, despite the fact of close ties between the Syrian and Turkish Kurdish terrorist elements, continues to arm and train the Syrian Kurds is a particular irritation for the Turkish citizen and the leadership of Turkey.

The US position on the issue of supporting the Syrian Kurds is based on assessing the ability of the Turkish leadership to act adequately in the interests of Western partners in both domestic and foreign policy. For the US, Turkey Erdogan is moving farther away from the standards of mature democracy. Any cooperation in Syria between Washington and Ankara should not lead to the legitimization of an authoritarian turn in Turkey, that is why today cooperation is reduced to zero.

The plans announced by the American administration several days ago to create border troops from among the Syrian Kurds became the last straw for Ankara. Against this background, the actions of the government of Turkey began to be determined by the so-called. Sevres syndrome, deep-rooted suspicion among the Turkish political elites as to the real intentions of the Western powers who allegedly want to actually split the unitary Turkish state, using ethnic groups and minorities of the country. The discontent of the Turkish leadership is also aggravated by the inability of Ankara to convey to the US leadership and the world community its own viewpoint regarding the degree of threat the Syrian Kurdish organization represents for the national security of Turkey.

Given the high public support for the military operation, the Turkish authorities easily suppress any criticism directed against military action. The main front of the fight against "accomplices of terrorism" unfolded in the Internet sphere, one of the few places where today there is a discussion about the political problems of the country. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Turkey, more than 300 people were arrested during the first week of the operation on suspicion of "propagating the ideas of a terrorist organization". In the service of the state apparatus there is also legislation, which contains rather vague definitions of what this propaganda is.

Go and own resources of the state. On the eve of the operation, the imams of the state mosques were ordered to read special prayers and sermons containing the words of support for the military operation. In public statements of the policy from the ruling party, first of all, Erdogan himself, began to mention the historical past of Turkey, comparing the military operation in Africa with the episodes of the War of Independence of 1919-1923. During the speeches before the Turkish nationalists, the authorities turn to Turkic myths: the history of the Red Apple (tour Kızıl Elma), the mystical object, the symbol of prosperity and greatness of the ancient Turks, for which brave wars go to distant lands to conquer.

Obviously, in the reaction of the Turkish society to the military operation and high support ratings, there are processes that are important for Russia. A significant part of the Turkish society is dissatisfied with the political situation in the country. Everyone recognizes that the level of polarization has reached previously unheard-of heights, while no one shares any optimism that the existing power will be able to reconcile different social groups. In addition, the country does not have a healthy atmosphere of discussion on the most important issues, and any criticism is suppressed under the pretext of fighting terrorism.

The situation of the country in the region also does not cause joy to most Turks. The country's main military and political ally renders direct support to the terrorists, who then kill Turkish soldiers. Turkey's impotence as a regional player is also evident in neighboring Iraq, where Iraqi Kurds last year also ignored Ankara's objections and decided to hold a referendum.

Loud foreign policy actions allow society not only to forget about problems and social schism, but also to feel to each indifferent citizen the pride of his country, which can operate in the world independently, even against plans to world powers.

An interesting paradox is observed. Support for such foreign policy actions is certainly used by the ruling party of Turkey to mobilize the electorate: in political lobbies, it is increasingly said that the authorities plan not to wait for the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 2019, deciding to hold them this spring. Thus, broad support for the population of a military operation is transformed, in the absence of public self-reflection, in support of the authorities, whose unsuccessful foreign policy in many ways caused the need for such military operations.


Erdogan's Islamists will lead reforms in Turkish army

The attempted military coup launched a mechanism for reforming the army in Turkey. Today, one of the issues that is hotly debated in the country's narrow expert circles is the dilemma of the lack of cadres among civilians that would direct the process of democratization of relations between the armed forces and the government of the country. The lack of effective civilian expertise, coupled with a hostile political power, can significantly reduce the effectiveness of the upcoming army reforms.

The problem of the lack of cadres is closely connected with the peculiarities of the functioning of the Turkish army. Until recently, in the armed forces of the country, due to extreme closeness, all issues related to issues of military security and formulation of the strategy were discussed without significant participation of civilian experts. The lack of practical application of civilian expertise meant that there was no need for such expertise as such. Another circumstance has been and still is the low influence of expert communities: expert centers close to the government are mainly engaged in legitimization (through the making of a quasi-expert evaluation) of political decisions already taken without their serious participation. Finally, an effective discussion of the activities of the Turkish Armed Forces can not take place in an atmosphere where the government is hostile to any critical opinion. Proceeding from all this, there is a danger that as a result of reforms the armed forces of Turkey, although they will cease to exist as an autonomous entity, will be highly politicized.

It is the problem of politicization that causes fear among many observers. The nature of the measures being taken today by the Turkish leadership to reform the organization of the army demonstrates the serious intention of the civil authorities to put an end once and for all to the tradition of military intervention in the political process. However, it is the political views of experts appointed by the leadership of Turkey to carry out these reforms that may indicate that the democratization of the military-civilian relations will be formalized within a certain political ideology.

General of Turkish counter-revolution

In mid-August, leading Turkish media reported the appointment of Brigadier-General Adnan Tanriverdi as retired to the post of adviser to the President of Turkey. The figure of Tanriverdi, his biography, views and professional activity deserve special attention because of the particular inconsistency. The appointment of such an ambiguous person to the influential post of adviser to the Turkish president in so much a critical period in which the country is located can shed light on what the future is for the Turkish army.

Biography Adnan Tanriverdi at first glance is no different from the biography of thousands of other successful Turkish officers. In 1964, Tanriverdi entered the Military School of the Armed Forces of Turkey, at the end of which in 1976 he successfully passed the entrance exams to the Academy of the Armed Forces, which is the main starting point in the career of any officer in Turkey. During the training, the officer took courses on conducting unconventional military operations in the Office of Special Operations at the Turkish General Staff. Prior to receiving the rank of brigadier general in 1992, Tanriverdi served in the Army Medical Administration of the Army of Turkey, and held a post in the Civil Defense Directorate in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

In 1996, the successful military career of Tanriverdi was interrupted, the army sent the brigadier general ahead of time to retire before reaching retirement age. As indicated in the documents, in connection with "organizational and staff arrangements". However, it was clear to everyone that the general became the next victim of the Turkish army's policy of fighting religious reaction in its ranks. Since the 1960s, the Turkish military have entrusted themselves with the duty of protecting and protecting the secular system of the republic, in this regard, the penetration of religious elements into senior officer posts has become unacceptable. During his service, the general did not hide his convictions, took an active part in the organization of religious events, for which he was supposed to have paid with his own career.

After the retirement of Tanriverdi for five years, he headed the Society for the Advocacy of Justice founded by himself (ASDER - Adaleti Savunanlar Derneği), a public non-profit association defending the rights of servicemen dismissed from the ranks of the Turkish army on suspicion of open practice of religion and the existence of reactionary views undermining the secular the nature of the republic and the principles of Kemalism. The activities of the Society are gaining popularity among conservative Turks.

In 2000, the Center for Strategic Studies (ASSAM - Adaleti Savunanlar Stratejik Araştırmalar Merkezi Derneği) began its work in the framework of the Society for the Advocacy of Justice. Its main focus was to develop practical steps to reform the Turkish army and democratize relations between the military and civilian government of the country . Under the auspices of the Center, Tanriverdi gathered a group of like-minded people, mostly former officers, also fired from the army for their religious views.

In his works, Tanriverdi pays special attention to the privileged role of laicism in the life of society. A former military man defends the idea of ​​the earliest adoption of a new constitution of the country, devoid of any hint of the predominant role of laicism in the life of society. After all, it is in Turkey's laicism that Tanriverdi sees the main reason for all the socio-political ills of the country. Thus, in 2012, in one of his articles, Tanriverdi wrote that in order to prevent new military coups and polarize society, it is necessary that there be no articles in the new constitution fixing any official ideology of the state and establishing the secular character of the republic. Within the framework of the discussion of the new constitution, Tanriverdi supports the idea of ​​subordinating the General Staff to the parliament of the country (the article was written before the start of the campaign of the ruling Justice and Development Party for the country's transition to presidential form of government) and the liquidation of the judicial autonomy of the military.

General Sadat

Tanriverdi is not unknown to the Turkish public. The media's particular attention to the figure of Tanriverd is explained by the rather contradictory activity of its commercial structure - the International Consulting Company in the Defense Sphere (SADAT Tour - Uluslararası Savunma Danışmanlık İnşaat Sanayi ve Ticaret AŞ). Established in 2012, in the midst of a military conflict in neighboring Syria, the organization as an official goal of its activity indicates advising the armed forces of Muslim countries in matters of organization and strategic planning. SADAT intends to "promote the development of the military capabilities of Muslim countries, in particular in the fight against terrorism, by assessing threats and developing a set of measures to improve the combat readiness of the armed forces." The similarity with the infamous American private military company Blackwater Security is confirmed by numerous statements of the founder of the company. So, in one of the reports of September 4, 2012, Tanriverdi says that the organization's goal is "to work where the Turkish army can not carry out its activities for one reason or another".

Among the company's services are training courses in the conduct of asymmetric warfare, sabotage operations in the enemy's rear and operations against partisans. Despite the statements of the company's management, which employs more than 58 former officers of the Turkish army, about transparency of activities and compliance with Turkish legislation and concentrating work exclusively on educational services, SADAT's work still raises many questions.

In mid-2014, a photo of a vacancy announcement posted on the company's website a year earlier appeared in Turkish social networks. The announcement indicated that SADAT was looking for an engineer-mechanic familiar with Soviet-Russian tanks and knowing the Arabic language. Turkish media then accused the organization of Tanriverdi in cooperation with Syrian Islamists. In response to the allegations, the management of the firm published an explanation, which stated that the vacancy of a mechanical engineer was placed for the needs of the company's project in Libya. The same announcement also said that the coordination of the project with the Libyan authorities is carried out with the assistance of diplomatic representatives of Turkey.

Interestingly, on July 12, 2016, in an interview with RS FM radio, the head of the company Adnan Tanriverdi pointed out that SADAT does not have an active presence in Libya, as well as in Syria and Yemen. By the way, in the same interview, Tanriverdi still admitted that the company was negotiating with representatives of the Free Syrian Army. Negotiations, according to the former military, were held in the refugee camp in Turkey. According to Tanriverdi, all requests of representatives of the SSA were transferred by the official authorities.

On September 3, 2012, the newspaper Aydynlik, based on information from two independent sources in the National Intelligence Organization of Turkey, published an article saying that SADAT is engaged in the supply of financial resources from the Persian Gulf countries to the Syrian opposition, as well as transportation of weapons to Islamists fighting against Assad. The article also stated that in the training camps of the firm, representatives of the opposition themselves are trained, the total number of trained fighters reaches 2,800 people.

On the basis of these data, from 5 September 2012 to 16 January 2013, deputies from the opposition People's Republican Party of Turkey sent 5 inquiries to the government regarding the activities of the company.

SADAT funding was also affected in the requests. The Turkish newspaper "Cumhuriyet" in an article of July 11, 2016 published an investigation on the financing of the firm's activities. From open sources it became known that the authorized capital of the organization was 880 thousand rounds. lir, which, according to the journalist of the newspaper, is not enough to purchase the equipment necessary for training. It is unclear where the organization receives large funds for the acquisition and use of technology. Judging by the video posted on the company's website, helicopters and swimming equipment are involved in the training.

Officially, the leadership of SADAT denies that it has ever been engaged in training traditional and non-traditional methods of warfare. The company adheres to the legislation regulating the supply and prohibiting the circulation of arms without the permission of the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Defense of Turkey.

The firm, however, recognizes that it has acted as a consultant in several projects in several countries. Despite the fact that the management denies that the company has training camps, it still recognizes that SADAT has training opportunities and is ready to provide relevant services to any Muslim countries "if the relevant proposal is received."

Turkish army, democratic and neutral?

As the experience of other countries shows, the successful reform of the relations between the army and the government largely depends on how well politicians and civilian officials understand the military. Due to historical reasons, Turkey still does not have a civilian cadre system, which is necessary not only for carrying out such vital reforms, but also for direct control over the army's activities without creating obstacles to its effective functioning.

Another important circumstance is the nature of the political process in which the restructuring of the army will take place. The atmosphere of polarization of political forces makes it difficult to exchange views on how effective measures should look to build democratic relations between the army and the government. Given that the forthcoming reforms will also take place in the matter of reducing the influence of secular ideals in its structures, the absence of such a dialogue can lead to excessive ideological influence of certain political forces both on the reform process itself and on the worldview of the renewed army.

It is not known how much influence Adnan Tanriverdi, Brigadier General himself, will have on the forthcoming reforms, being an adviser to the president. Perhaps the reason for appointing such an ambiguous figure was the difficult military career of the general. An officer who demonstrates good organizational performance, but who has been persecuted because of religious beliefs, seems to be an ideal candidate for the position of a specialist overseeing a large-scale restructuring of the country's armed forces. It is also possible that Adnan Tanriverdi will serve as the informal chief of the General Staff of the country throughout the process.

It remains also incomprehensible how much Tanriverdi's own views will influence the worldview of the Turkish army itself. A man whose center of professional activity is cooperation with Islamic countries can potentially lay a new tradition in the ranks of the armed forces of the country, which until recently gave unquestionable priority to military-political cooperation with Western countries. Such a change would be in line with the foreign policy ambitions of the official Ankara, which wants to play a more active role in the Middle East.


Will Turkish occupation of Syria follow Israeli experience in Lebanon?

For almost a year Turkey, Russia and Iran have been coordinating their efforts in Syria. Since January 2017 three countries have not only significantly reduced the level of violence, they also have been cooperation over zones of de-escalation, which triggered a mechanism for negotiations between the Syrian opposition and the government of Syria and gave hope for a political solution to the civil war. Obviously, thanks to these agreements, it was also possible to reduce the level of danger emanating from international terrorist groups based in Syria as well.

However, despite a fully functioning mechanism of coordination of policies of the three states in Syria, sides still have a number of unresolved issues. For instance, relations between Ankara and Moscow are complicated by differences in views on the role of Syrian Kurds in the political future of Syria. The recent incident with the attack on the Russian base in Latakia carried out with drones launched from the territory under Turkey's responsibility once again demonstrated the need for closer cooperation.

Another important issue that can significantly complicate bilateral cooperation in stabilizing Syria may be the future of the Turkish occupation zone in the northern Aleppo. It is in this zone that the Turkish authorities are trying to create quasi-state structures that should be controlled by opposition forces calling for the overthrow of the Syrian government. The issue of the occupation is further complicated by the fact that the status of the territory occupied by the Turkish troops since August 2016 has not been defined by the agreements either with the Syrian government, Russia, Iran or with Western allies of Turkey.

The question of the military presence of Turkish military contingent in the territory of the sovereign Syrian state is extremely controversial. One should remember that the Turkish operation was launched on August 24, 2016 in response to numerous IS mortar shelling of border cities with civilian casualties. Operation in Syria was an effort to free the adjacent territory in the sector between the cities of Jarablus, Azaz and Al-Bab from terrorist groups. Yes, another objective of the operation "Euphrates Shield" was to prevent the linking of Kurdish forces, seeking to gain control over the entire Syrian-Turkish border. Turkey has been perceiving Syrian Kurds acting under the leadership of the Democratic Union Party as part of the Turkish terrorist organization Kurdistan Workers' Party. Consequently, according to the Turkish official stance, military operation in Syria against terrorists was legitimate, what has been repeatedly challenged by Damascus, who insists on transferring control over the occupied territories to the legitimate Syrian authorities.

In this regard, the question of why Turkey continues to refuse to transfer the territory under the Syrian control is on the agenda of Ankara's relations with Moscow. At the same time, Turkish policy in regards to the occupation in some ways begins to resemble the Israel's actions in South Lebanon in 1976-2000 when the Israeli authorities were trying to create and support a so-called "Free Lebanon", a buffer quasi-state.

Since the 1950s, during numerous discussions on the issue of the military-political doctrine of Israel, it has become increasingly common to hear decision-makers talking about the need to create  strategic depth around the national borders. Successful negotiations to normalize relations with Egypt and Jordan in the mid-1970s allowed the Israeli leadership to focus on stabilizing the situation in neighboring Lebanon, where the Palestine Liberation Organization continued to operate and from where its assets managed to carry out attacks against Israel. The increased number of terrorist attacks in Israel itself prompted the country's leadership to take measures to create an effective military and political structure in the territory of southern Lebanon from among local Christian and Shiite communities that could resist the numerous Palestinian refugees, among whom PLO activists were acting and recruiting new members.

In response to another terrorist attack by Palestinian militants, on May 14, 1978, Israel launched "Litani" military operation in Lebanon's border area with a goal of destroying the PLO camps. Already in June 1978, mostly due to international pressure, Israel had to withdraw the bulk of its armed forces. On the other hand, in parallel with the military operation, Israel prepared necessary organizational infrastructure for the formation of a friendly puppet government on the territory under its control. On April 19, 1979, the state of Free Lebanon under the leadership of Saad Haddad was proclaimed.

Despite its name, the Haddad government operated only in southern Lebanon, and all financial and material support was coming from Israel. Main task of the State of Free Lebanon was, through local armed forces, to prevent the terrorist activities of the PLO. By the summer of 1981, however, it was clear that the Haddad government failed to fulfill its main mission, since the PLO had increased the intensity of rocket attacks on Israeli territory. In June 1982, Israel again had to launch a war with a neighboring Lebanon provoking a civil war.

Turkey's actions in northern Syria in many ways repeat the policy of Israel to create a buffer zone in southern Lebanon. Ankara is actively supporting the creation of functioning security agencies and local military forces. Among the priority directions, it is also possible to indicate steps to create a functioning political system, led by loyal Syrian activists, including many Turkmens, representatives of the Turkic people. These steps are combined with humanitarian support: hospitals, mosques are being built, schools are now teaching the Turkish language instead of French as a foreign language, and diplomas are recognized by Turkish universities.

Creation of loyal armed forces from local Syrians is Turkey's most important task for today. As in the case of the Israeli project for the establishment of the South Lebanese Army, the presence of loyal Ankara armed forces could help reduce the involvement of the Turkish army in Syria's internal affairs while eliminating threats to Turkey's national security. First of all, this concerns the issue of counteracting the expansion of Kurdish forces along the Turkish border: the transfer of theater of operations to the territory of Syria would give Ankara more operational room for maneuver, without creating political problems for the Turkish government in a form of criticism from the domestic opposition in case of failures that could lead to losses among Turkish armed forces.

Another important aspect of the Turkish occupation of northern Syria can be considered the creation of political levers of pressure in the hands of Ankara in relations with the Syrian government. As in the case of Israel and southern Lebanon, Turkey, through controlled quasi-state entities, has the opportunity to influence the alignment of forces in Syria during post-conflict stabilization period. But, despite some successes in the issue of creating a loyal buffer zone on the critical section of its own border, Turkey, sooner or later, will face a number of important problems.

First, even if we admit that the military operation to purge the territory of northern Syria from terrorists has reached its goals, success of Ankara's subsequent actions to confront the armed forces of the Syrian Kurds will depend on Turkey's cooperation with the Syrian government. Against the background of the developing cooperation of Syrian Kurds with the United States and a number of European countries, especially in the issue of reconstruction of territories and the fight against terrorism, Turkey has to look for partners to balance the influence of this cooperation. Recognition of the Syrian government, in turn, can nullify all the existing political gains of Turkey in Syria and harm Ankara's image in a broader region.

Secondly, construction of an independent and effective polity in the Turkish occupation zone requires serious financial and material costs. So far, Turkey makes it clear that it is not ready to invest in the development and maintenance of a controlled enclave in the long run. On the other hand, in case of significant expansion of its presence in Syria, if security situation would require so, Turkey may face significant anti-Turkish sentiments among the local population, as well as a protest from main allies of the Syrian government, primarily from Iran.

It is not yet clear what position Ankara will take in the issue of  support for the Turkish occupation zone in Syria, but given that ambitious politicians in Ankara still continue to determine Turkish foreign policy, it is fair to say that the destabilization of military and political situation in northern Syria is not improbable.


Turkey, a game spoiler or challenger to U.S. interests?

Trump's decision on December 6 to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel caused a wave of outrage throughout the Middle East and beyond. Remarkable diplomatic activity of Turkey in recent days was directed at mobilization of international opinion against Israel and United States. Particularly, a Turkish President threw its political weight behind convening the OIC, the largest organization in the Middle East, against the decision and co-sponsoring the UNGA resolution to delegitimize Trump's initiative in a global arena. Turkish engagement wasn't not a sporadic outburst of anger, it must be viewed, rather, as part of the ongoing policy to challenge U.S. interests in the region. The reasons behind this are worth exploring.

For many reasons Turkish efforts to delegitimize Washington's decision on Jerusalem lacked practical utility. President Erdogan's plans to convene the OIC and demonstrate solidarity among the Muslim majority countries in the issue of contested capital didn't go as Turkish leader really may have wanted with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE sending low level officials to the event. Further, while Turkey-sponsored resolution vote on the United Nations General Assembly managed to reveal that U.S. and Israel are in minority over the issue of Jerusalem, the resolution itself will not be of any practical use in resolving the conflict, like most of the UNGA resolutions against Israel.

The ultimate utility behind such engagement must be, thus, in its symbolism. Decision on Jerusalem was received among the Turkish public as an offense against its religious values. Therefore, Turkish government was responding to domestic political demands when it decided to rally the support against Trump's decision. But more importantly, Turkish decision-makers were motivated by a desire to demonstrate its capacity to mobilize international and regional community against the U.S. interests and initiatives. Turkish foreign policy has been framed by negative changes in the bilateral relations with Turkey's major ally in the Middle East, the United State and Turkish reaction to these changes has been consisting of steps that would send clear signal to Washington that Ankara is too important on global and regional arena to ignore her demands or put pressure on its political leadership.

This style of foreign policy has been developed as a result of concurrent process taking place in the region and Turkey itself. The Turkish ruling party, AKP or Justice and Development Party, came to power in 2002 and gained much legitimacy internationally as a moderate "Islamist" political force that the Bush administration was willing to use as a facilitating agent in the region within the framework of agenda of democracy promotion in the Middle East. During the Arab Spring AKP-led government showed on multiple occasions that country's political leadership ceased to be a mere democracy agenda supporter. Instead, Ankara enthusiastically supported forces in the Middle East that were trying to undermine status quo of authoritarian order without demonstrate any credibility in terms of devotion to ideals of democratic, free and tolerant society.

The rising concerns in Washington over Ankara's regional agenda were further reinforced by domestic political dynamics in Turkey itself. The AKP's evolution from a popular movement to a political party led under charismatic leadership of the President Erdogan coincided with decreasing quality of democratic process. Social polarization and Turkish state's failing capacity to respond to security challenges preconditioned centralization of power in the hands of a strong president.

The issue of democracy erosion has been occupying the agenda of Turkey's relations with the European Union and United States for several years ever since. To fend off criticism and to challenge attempts of the western capitals to impose a regime of undeclared isolation on Ankara, Turkish government opted out for a closer relations with Russia. Talks about possible purchase of S-400 air defense systems and participation in Russian-led diplomatic initiatives used by Turkish leadership to protect the dissent political regime from the outside pressure.

Turkish initiatives that challenge U.S. interests in the Middle East or at least serve to "spoil the game" of Washington must be examined through closer examination of views of the Turkish political leadership on the future of American presence in the region and global stance. One way to explain Turkey's recent endeavours is to interpret such steps as a rational strategy in times when region and the world witnesses relative decline of the U.S. power, till today Turkey's major security and political ally in the region. In this vein, Turkey's decision to cooperation with Iran and Russia or seek support among other emerging nations to combat U.S. hegemony is an attempt to advance Turkey's own stance and secure its future.

Alternative explanation seems more plausible and deals with the fact that Turkey was able to gain prominence in the Arab-majority region within a close economic, political and military alliance with the West. Following this argument, Turkish ruling elite may want to demonstrate that Turkey may use its serious destructive potential if ignored or pressured for domestic political decisions. Ultimately, Turkish leadership on multiple occasions demonstrated its willingness to engage in a closer dialogue with the United States and in no way wants to endanger U.S. assets in the region directly limiting its criticism with pure rhetoric and symbolism.

In practice this would have serious regional implications and mean that Turkey may become a much harder interlocutor, especially in issues that are relevant for security of all countries in the Middle East. Particularly, Turkey may be less inclined to contribute to containment of Iran. Washington and its regional partners must take it into account.

Shorter version of this article was first published in the Jerusalem Post: http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Turkey-A-game-spoiler-or-challenger-to-US-interests-522682