Any US deal with Turkey over ISIL may draw Iran into a larger conflict

American approval of Turkey’s conditions for joining the fight against ISIL should cause concern in Tehran and Damascus, and might be the prelude to an all-out regional war, according to Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of the London-based online publication Rai Al Youm.

In a bid to convince Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to enter the war against ISIL, the US and its allies seem likely to succumb to a request by Mr Erdogan for a no-fly zone along the Turkish-Syrian borders, the writer said.

On Wednesday, the US Department of Defense admitted that air strikes alone in Syria will not be sufficient to save the besieged city of Kobani. This means ground troops will be necessary to stop ISIL from advancing. And there could be no army better for the job than that of Turkey, which is said to have the seventh most powerful military in the world.

Mr Erdogan, who is faced with tough choices over Syria and Iraq, has set three main conditions for joining the anti-ISIL campaign

The first is the creation of a buffer zone in Syria’s Kurdish areas near the border with Turkey. This will help deprive Syrian Kurds of their aspirations for self-governance and prevent the Kurdistan Workers’ Party from using the border zone as a starting point to carry out operations inside Turkey.

Mr Erdogan’s second condition is to establish a no-fly zone in north-west Syria to neutralise Syrian air power and create an independent Syrian pocket run by the opposition. The third request is to have the moderate Syrian opposition trained and supplied with advanced weaponry.

Meanwhile, the US administration – which is facing criticism over its air strikes – wants to do all it can to support candidates from President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party in next month’s midterm election. US secretary of state John Kerry said on Wednesday that he was ready to study the possibility of a buffer zone along the Turkish-Syrian border.

However, the writer said, the Syrian regime – and its allies in Tehran and possibly in Moscow – may view any attempt by the US to meet Ankara’s demands as tantamount to a declaration of war.

The Syrian regime, which has largely kept silent over the US air strikes inside its territory, might find it hard to do nothing about the creation of a no-fly buffer zone controlled by the opposition.

This explains the statement by the Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham on Wednesday that Tehran was ready to help if asked by the Syrian government, because “Kobani is part of Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

The concerns of Iran and Syria have been demonstrated in moves taken by those countries over the past three weeks. The first sign was the visit by Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, to Syria, where he met president Bashar Al Assad. The visit came amid reports of Iranian missiles and drones being sent to pro-Iran militias fighting alongside the Assad regime and 2,000 fighters from Iran’s revolutionary guard being deployed to Syria.

The second move was Hizbollah’s bombing on Tuesday of an Israeli patrol in the Shebaa Hills. The blast, which came after many years of calm, was a message to the US and the West that Iran will avenge attempts to topple the Assad regime, not only by striking back at those responsible but by waging a war on Israel and liberating the part of Upper Galilee, which is occupied by Israel.

No doubt, the Syrian crisis has reached its climax, with difficult choices facing both the once-hesitant Obama administration and the Turkish government.

Now, the writer said, Hizbollah is apparently ready to spark a war with Israel at Iran’s signal. What happens next, he said, was anybody’s guess.

Zuhair Qusaibati wrote in the London-based daily Al Hayat that ISIL’s battle to control Kobani has created bad news for Mr Erdogan in Turkey.

The writer said that Turkey clearly cannot coexist with ISIL on its borders, but the US administration has sent clear signals that overthrowing the Assad regime was not an objective of the American-led coalition.

Ankara understands that the Obama administration is not willing to trade Turkish ground intervention to rescue Kobani for a decision to topple the Syrian regime. The writer said that Mr Erdogan is disappointed in the Obama administration because he fears it is trying to get him entangled in the ISIL quagmire in return for nothing.

Meanwhile, the writer said, Tehran and Russia are watching closely as developments unfold.

Translated by Abdelhafid Ezzouitni

aezzouitni@thenational.ae

Published: October 9, 2014 04:00 AM

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