Thursday,23 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1163, (5 - 11 September 2013)
Thursday,23 November, 2017
Issue 1163, (5 - 11 September 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Turkey and the US strike

Ankara’s ruling party is gleeful at prospects of a US military strike on Syria, but it largely stands alone in Turkey, writes Sayed Abdel-Maguid

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Now that Western capitals — Washington above all — appear determined to strike Syria on the claim that the ruling regime in Damascus launched a chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus leading to a large number of deaths, mostly among women, children and the elderly, Ankara buzzes with a renewed thrall. It had almost begun to despair that this moment would never come, after having pushed for it with an enviable tenacity for the past two years.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu rushed to issue statements to the national press, most notably the Milleyet, declaring his country’s readiness to join the international initiative against the Al-Assad regime. If an international coalition is formed, Turkey will be in it, he said 27 August, adding that such a coalition would have to be led by the UN. In tandem, in a local television interview, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arin stated that his government had a mandate to dispatch the Turkish army on operations abroad. Although that mandate ends in October, parliament could issue a memorandum extending the powers.

In anticipation of a Western strike against Turkey’s neighbour, which had turned from friend to mortal foe from one day to the next, officials in Ankara are bursting with extraordinary energy and excitement as they undertake preparations reminiscent of the build-up to the Iraq invasion 10 years ago. An example is the intense activity in the strategically important Incirlik airbase located on the outskirts of Adana in southern Turkey. Six mammoth American military transport planes have landed there in the past few days. Regarded as one of the world’s most effective airbases, it was used in the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in the military operation against Kosovo.

From another base in Diyarbakir, located in the same geographical belt, military aircraft took off in the direction of the Turkish-Syrian border on reconnaissance missions. At the same time, convoys of armoured vehicles and other military vehicles headed towards various locations on the border while tanks were deployed on strategic heights and tests were conducted on NATO missile systems equipped with Patriot missiles. In addition, the office of the chiefs-of-staff cancelled all leaves of soldiers belonging to combat units stationed in the areas near the Syrian border and the border area itself was put on a state of high alert in anticipation of the influx of more Syrian refugees, the possibility that the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party could seize the opportunity to infiltrate into Turkey, or other such factors.

With war around the corner, the Turkish press stepped forward with likely scenarios, especially with respect to the Turkish role. Sabah, which is close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP), wrote that Ankara would take part in the international coalition by contributing six F-16 fighter planes whose mission would be aerial reconnaissance and safeguarding radar support. It would not extend to bombarding targets inside Syria. The newspaper added that Free Syrian Army commanders held meetings with a number of Turkish officials to discuss final arrangements for coordinated action.

The Milleyet, on 28 August, discussed two chief factors needed to ensure the success of what it termed “the alliance of volunteers”. The first was the delineation of its aim: should it be solely to intimidate Bashar Al-Assad or should it extend to the destruction of his regime and the inauguration of a new Syria? The second was to determine the strength and political aims of the forces that would take part in the military operation.

Not all political parties in Turkey are as gung-ho on the war as the JDP. In fact, most have strong reservations. Foremost among these is the opposition Republican People’s Party, which is adamantly opposed to Turkey’s entrance into a proxy war in Syria. Even the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party, which had seemed more in favour of punitive measures against Al-Assad, insisted on certain conditions, above all the need to wait until the UN inspections team that probed the site of the last chemical weapons attack in Syria announce the results of their findings.

On the whole, therefore, it looks like the ruling JDP is strumming the pro-war tune in solo, and not just at home. Elsewhere in the region its voice has little accompaniment. In addition, its eagerness to destroy its enemy, Al-Assad, has once again run up against the wall of the wavering of international powers. Moreover, it found it hard to disguise its disappointment when Washington vowed that the aim of a possible strike would be solely to punish the Syrian regime and not to topple the Al-Assad regime.

From where does Recep Tayyip Erdogan get his confidence as he presses for war? What is he counting on and what does he hope to gain? Questions such as these are being asked with increasing urgency in Turkey. So too is the question as to who would foot the bill for the war. The subject seems all the more pressing in light of a decline in the performance of the Turkish economy and the detrimental effects of this on broad sectors of the population. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that as part of the campaign to reassure public opinion and rally its support for a military strike against the Al-Assad regime, Turkish state television stations aired a documentary that featured Turkish businessmen who said that Turkey would have the greatest share in the reconstruction of its Syrian neighbour in the post-Al-Assad period. Such propaganda failed to achieve its desired end, judging by the financial markets in Istanbul and elsewhere in the world, which are plunging as the war drums sound louder.

Meanwhile, the Turkish lira is continuing to lose value against foreign currencies, in spite of the central bank’s decision to inject $350 million a day into the market. When markets opened Monday, the dollar climbed to YTL 2.5 and the Euro to YTL 2.75 while the stock exchange dropped by 5.5 per cent to reach yet another low in the past few days.

In an effort to stem the fallout from the tremors in the financial market, the governor of the Turkish Central Bank, Erdem Basi, announced that he expected the Turkish lira to regain its strength against the dollar by the end of the year. He said that national economic growth would stand at around four per cent at that time and that the value of the dollar would decrease to YTL 1.29, if not less. Other economic experts are not so optimistic. Some predict a global economic crisis in 2014 and 2015. Turkey would not remain immune and its lira, instead of recovering, could take a further plunge by the beginning of next year.

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