Pressure on Syria mounts as Turkey ups the ante
With international pressure on Syria mounting, some question whether foreign military intervention is on the horizon.
By Ara Aydin for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 01/12/11
Following the Arab League's decision to slap Syria with a set of sanctions for failing to implement an initiative to quell ongoing violence, Turkey announced it would follow suit Wednesday (November 30th), freezing the Syrian government's assets and suspending all financial transactions with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Ankara will suspend all financial dealings with Syria, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Wednesday (November 30th). [Reuters]
At the Wednesday press conference, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that as Syria's largest trading partner, Turkey would try to avoid causing harm to civilians.
For now, electricity, water supplies and flights between Turkey and Syria would not be cut. Meanwhile, the chief executive of the Turkish oil refiner Tupras, Yavuz Erkut, said his company has ended an oil purchase deal with Syrian state company SYTROL.
Davutoglu said all weapons and military equipment would be blocked from entering Syria.
In a blow to what were once close relations, Davutoglu also announced the High-Level Strategic Co-operation mechanism between the two countries would be suspended until the formation of a new government in Syria.
Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers are meeting in Brussels on Thursday (December 1st) to review a raft of new sanctions.
In response to international sanctions, Assad vowed that "Syria's war on terror would continue," while his foreign minister, Walid al-Moalem, accused the Arab League of "economic war" and "pursuing foreign intervention in Syria".
Sanctions come amid fears the country could be sliding towards civil war, prompting some to question whether international intervention, such as the creation of a buffer zone, is on the horizon.
Speaking to Kanal 24 on Tuesday (November 29th), Davutoglu said he hoped military action would prove unnecessary, but signalled that as a contingency plan the creation of a buffer zone is on the agenda.
"If tens, hundreds of thousands of people start advancing towards the Iraq, Lebanon, and Turkey borders, not only Turkey but the international community may be required to take some steps such as a buffer zone. We don't want that to happen but we must consider and work on that scenario," he said.
Tensions along the Turkey-Syria border have been increasing, with reports of Turkish military exercises and similar deployments by Syria.
In response to Turkish support for the Free Syrian Army -- an armed opposition group based in Turkey -- and the Syrian National Council political opposition, media and intelligence reports indicate Syria is turning a blind eye to PKK activities on its side of the border. Turkish President Abdullah Gul has warned Syria not to play "the Kurdish card".
Soner Cagaptay, from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), told SES Türkiye that although avoiding conflict is the dominant attitude in Ankara, "the world might soon be witnessing a Turkish military operation in Syria."
However, Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Selcuk Unal told SES Türkiye "tension is on the other side of the border."
"We cannot predict what is going to happen but think this situation is going to normalise at some point. The presence of Syrian troops alongside the border does not represent a threat," said Ünal.
Calls from the Syria opposition in Turkey for quicker action and broader support are increasing pressure on both Syria and Turkey.
Molham al-Drobi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a prominent figure in the Syrian National Council, told SES Türkiye he "would prefer Turkey to move much faster".
"We in Syria would like to resolve all issues peacefully. Having said this, it sounds like Assad is not willing to do so. He has missed all offered opportunities," al-Drobi said.
"Assad, by refusing to fully co-operate with the Arab League initiative, is effectively provoking the international community to interfere in order to protect civilians," he added.
Haldun Sölmaztürk, a retired Turkish military officer and political analyst, says a Turkish military intervention is "extremely unlikely".
"Foreign, especially Western intervention, as witnessed in Libya, would have unforeseeable consequences and is no longer supported in the region. The whole issue has become part of Turkish domestic politics. Erdogan wants to avoid being seen as a 'puppet' of the West," Sölmaztürk said.
"Intervention in Syria by Turkey, even if it is supported by the West and based upon a UN Security Council resolution, which is unlikely, would not solve the problem but invite involvement of other actors. Especially after what happened in Libya, which set an example for later interventions, Turkey would not like [to set another precedent for foreign intervention]," he said.