…Bashar al-Assad, who was not only re-elected in a self-declared landslide, by almost 90 percent, but was also content seeing the Turkish government having to shift very sharply from its line and declare the al-Nusra Front a terrorist organization affiliated with al-Qaeda.
Although there are still question marks about the implementation dimensions of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) Cabinet decision, this will be taken well by Damascus in what it sees as establishing the old order, after immense carnage and displacement.
A blow to al-Nusra, however justified, has a strong link to the gross international failure to deal with crimes against humanity committed by a rogue state. The other aspect is that Ankara has finally recognized the fact that the shaping of a “Middle Eastern Waziristan” below its 910-kilometer-long border has come to a tipping point, threatening its own internal security and beyond towards the west.
The deliberate cover-up by pro-government media is certainly not sufficient to conceal this bitter fact from Turkey’s predominantly Sunni-conservative public. It will have consequences in the long run.
Let us leave that aspect to time. Outlawing al-Nusra means that the AKP government is now willing to be on the same page as the US and the EU. But the main task may be more arduous than ever imagined. Estimates say close to 10,000 foreign fighters, mainly from Libya and Chechnya, acting as Islamist mercenaries, have turned parts of Syria into a laboratory of terror.
The test now will be how to tackle the inflow of fighters bearing Western passports, crossing into Syria over the Turkish border. The names of nearly 5,000 of them were given to Ankara — far more than what was believed.
This creates a large “wanted” list and puts immense pressure on Turkish border control. It is estimated that around 500 of the fighters — EU citizens — are now back in EU territory. The recent attack at the Jewish Museum in Brussels has had a shocking effect on what one may expect further on.
And even if the EU is able to take enough precautions, Turkey will remain utterly vulnerable to all sorts of terrorist acts — be they provoked by hostile regimes in the neighborhood or not, given the fact that the “regime changer” role adopted by Ankara has not only sealed the total collapse of its “zero problems with neighbors” policy, but risks turning it into a soft target.
The clearest warning thus far comes from Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN’s former special envoy to Syria, in an extensive interview with Der Spiegel.
“Unless there is a real, sustained effort to work out a political solution, there is a serious risk that the entire region will blow up,” he said. “The conflict is not going to stay inside Syria. It will spill over into the region. It’s already destabilizing Lebanon, there are 1.5 million refugees in the country; that represents one third of the population. If it were Germany, it would be the equivalent of 20 million. It is destabilizing because ISIS (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is active in both Syria and Iraq already, and Jordan is really struggling to continue resisting. Even Turkey! According to a senior Iraqi official, ISIS has carried out 100 operations in Syria and 1,000 operations in Iraq in just three months.”
“The UN has, I think, 20,000 or 30,000 soldiers that would be there to help the Syrians implement something they have agreed upon. And then you would need to face the ISIS, Jabhat al Nusra and (other radical groups). But first, the Syrians would have to agree for the UN to come in. It doesn’t look likely today or tomorrow, but this conflict has got to be resolved. And it will be at some point. The question is: How much killing and destruction are we going to have before that happens?”
“It will become another Somalia. It will not be divided, as many have predicted. It’s going to be a failed state, with warlords all over the place,” predicts Brahimi. If Turkey has to pay attention to his wisdom, it only needs to take one path: leave the imperial dreams and “regime change” aside and truly be part of a solution-oriented international collective.