Turkish Syria op: ‘US won’t prioritize Kurds over alliance with Ankara’

Smoke rises from the Syrian border town of Jarablus as it is pictured from the Turkish town of Karkamis, in the southeastern Gaziantep province, Turkey, August 24, 2016. © Umit Bektas
Turkey sees two goals in its Syrian military operation - to thwart the threat posed by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), and to prevent a kind of Kurdish enclave on its southern border Middle East affairs expert Ali Rizk told RT.

On Wednesday the Turkish military began an operation against IS just over its border in the Syrian town of Jarablus.

Turkish authorities say they've notified Russia about the operation, and US-backed coalition forces are also taking part.

RT: Which side is the US going to take? This is a difficult position, isn’t it?

Ali Rizk: I think the Obama administration’s priority right now is to score points against ISIS. We’ve all heard the rhetoric coming from Republican candidate Donald Trump that Obama and Clinton are behind the rise of ISIS, or created ISIS. I think Obama wants to push against that argument, and also … wants to increase the likelihood a democratic candidate, meaning Hillary Clinton, would be elected. So if you take that in mind the priority for Obama right now is to score points against ISIS; to deal significant blows against ISIS for certain domestic political reasons. If you focus on that particular issue, I don’t think Obama can afford to upset Turkey, because upsetting Turkey could jeopardize his fight against ISIS and his efforts to deal severe blows to ISIS.

Therefore, I believe America would prioritize, at this particular moment, to repair ties with Turkey and to cooperate with Turkey. Evidence of the importance the US attaches to Turkey is the fact that the US dispatched not John Kerry, for example, to go to Ankara, but the Vice President himself, Joe Biden. I think that by itself shows the importance and the keenness of America to keep Turkey on its side. I disagree with those who would say that America would prioritize protecting the Syrian Kurds over maintaining its alliance with Turkey.

Peter Ford, former British ambassador to Bahrain from 1999–2003 and to Syria from 2003–2006, on current situation on Syria–Turkey border: The Turks appear desperate to prevent the linking up of the Kurdish controlled enclave around [Jarablus-]Azaz in the west, and the main Kurdish controlled areas in the east, including Al-Hasakah.

RT: Who really got in Turkey’s way here? We know it is not just ISIS, is it?

AR: Of course it is not just ISIS. It is also the Kurds, as well – whether be the Kurds of the Kurdistan Workers' Party [PKK,] or also the PYG [People's Protection Units] in Syria itself. But it has to also be mentioned that ISIS has come to pose quite a big threat to Turkey, if you recall what happened over the weekend with this attack on a wedding in the border area, which led to 50 people being killed. At the same time today also in Istanbul where we saw this cross border attack by the Turkish army in Istanbul – there was a big campaign launched by Turkish police against supporters of ISIS in Turkey.

It is clear that Turkey has come to perceive ISIS as a significant threat. I think the threat posed by ISIS is a major reason behind these Turkish operations – be it the cross border operations, or the internal campaign against ISIS sympathizers. But as well… the Turks do want to take on the Kurdish forces. There is a very important reason behind that. If Turkey wants to put an end to the threat posed by ISIS it can’t afford to have the Kurds defeat ISIS on its territory, or on the Syrian border. That could lead to a [Kurdish] small state on the Syrian border. So it defeats ISIS, and at the same time by defeating ISIS on these border areas it prevents the Kurds from taking up this role and establishing for themselves a small state at that border region.

Peter Ford, former British ambassador to Bahrain from 1999–2003 and to Syria from 2003–2006: The Americans have very few forces on the ground, a sprinkling of Special Forces. Their priority, I suspect, will be for those Special Forces not to get dragged in. So I expect the Americans to stand back and let the balance of power reestablish itself with Turkey in control of a small sliver of northern Syrian territory.

RT: Is Turkey going to focus on Jarabulus, or are we going to see mission creep over the coming days, weeks?

AR: We could see mission creep. I don’t think that is likely, [but] it is possible. But I think the main focus now would be on the border areas. As I said, we have two priorities, which kind of intersect in my point of view. The first priority for Turkey is that it wants to thwart this threat posed by ISIS…Second priority is to prevent the establishment of a kind of Kurdish enclave on its southern border…Both require Turkish action on the border areas mainly. So I think for the time being we’ll see Turkish military action in the border areas, but we can’t also completely rule out some kind of mission creep.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.