- Ankara will strike terror harder and prevent the Syrian war backfiring
Key words: Turkey, Russia, Iran, Syria.
Elijah J. Magnier: @
Foreign defence Ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran met in Moscow to agree on a 2017 road map for Syria. The three main players on the Syrian theatre stage are planning to halt the war, excluding the United States and Europe from the Syrian arena. Moscow, Ankara and Tehran control most (but not all) belligerents on the ground, fighters who occupy most of the Syrian geography.
The meeting in Moscow was held on the eve of the assassination of Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov in Ankara, who received several bullets fired by Turkish Protection Team officer Mevlut Mert Altıntas. The assassination was described by Ankara and Moscow as an attempt to spoil the relationship and create animosity between the two countries.
What Altıntas , the 22 year-old Turkish officer, said after opening fire on the Russian ambassador from behind indicates his membership of an ideological organisation. His words were not just an expression of revenge for Aleppo, Syria. In the seconds following his act, he said: “We pledge allegiance to Muhammad for Jihad as long as we stay ever (alive)”.
This sentence is a quote from an Islamic reference book by Sahih Bukhari. In the “Book of Jihad,” the “door of incitement on fighting” 2679 he says “The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, oversees the ditch (al-Khandaq)”. He saw the Muhajereen (immigrants to join Jihad) and Ansar (locals) digging the trench by themselves as they had no slaves working on their behalf. When he saw how they were exhausted and hungry, he said: “O Allah, life is the one hereafter, so forgive the Ansar and the Muhajera.”
They responded: We who have pledged allegiance to Muhammad for Jihad, as long as we stay ever (alive)”.
The assassination of the Russian ambassador however consolidates the need to combat terrorism and raises new concerns: many countries will now revise their vetting procedure when choosing close protection personnel. This new meticulous selection will increase the cost and budget of counter-terrorism.
This terrorist attack will definitely push Ankara into the arms of Moscow more than ever. It will also persuade Turkey that fighting terrorism is no longer an option, and that extra efforts need to be exerted to end the Syrian war and its reactive effect on neighbouring countries, especially Turkey.
Iran and the United States have closed their respective embassies in Ankara due to “fear of possible terrorist attacks”. Moreover, the old and continuing conflict between Ankara and the PKK Kurds is more omnipresent than ever, and the involvement of Turkish troops against the “Islamic State” (ISIS/Daesh) in Syria are factors adding to the instability of Turkey. These organisations have a logged history of multiple suicide attacks throughout the current year.
According to well-informed sources the goal of the Foreign and the Defence Ministers meetings in Moscow is to develop a strategic politico-military plan to end the war in Syria. Russia can exert international leverage through the United Nations in this direction; Iran controls its proxies as well as Turkey to exert enough pressure and reach a general cessation of hostilities covering the entire Syrian territory, to be followed by a political settlement by the end of the year 2017. The only remaining area under ISIS control will be dealt with by military means to end the group’s occupation of Raqqah and its rural area.
Turkey has taken the decision to participate in the liberation of the northern part of Syrian territory following an understanding with Russia, despite the deep rift that still exists between Damascus and Ankara. This unresolved bitterness is mainly due to Turkey’s support of the jihadists and the Syrian opposition since the beginning of the Syrian war.
But the Syrians are still facing a real split: there are those who support the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; those who support the rebels; those who support al-Qaeda (Fatah al-Sham); there are those who support ISIS; and there are those who do not support anyone and ask only for the end of the war.
The majority of the Syrian refugees displaced in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey do not support President Assad. Nevertheless, the refugees who are internally displaced, with the exception of Idlib, represent the largest number of the Syrian civilians (along with those who live in major cities under the Syrian regime’s control). They want to see the end of the war and support a stable country under the control of a strong Syrian army with functioning institutions, regardless who leads the country.
It is difficult to talk about a political vision that represents all these people and bring them all together under one roof as long as there are jihadist groups rejecting the concept of democracy and coexistence among all communities, as the jihadists have repeatedly declared.
The meeting in Moscow aims therefore to end the military situation in the first place before talking about any political solution with major consensus. Some groups among the rebels may need additional screening when the time comes to limit the control of jihadists and the geographic area these control.
The end of military activity will require a joint effort agreed upon by the key players involved in the battlefield. Turkey has played a major role in reaching a balance between some jihadist groups (including foreign fighters who came to the Levant to wage war and build an Islamic Emirate) and moderate armed opposition that accepts today more than ever a coexistence with other Syrians of different religions. There is indeed a readiness to alter its sectarian slogans and engage in reconciliation to avoid the partition of Syria and preserve the structure of the state.
Russia and Iran’s role – according to the agreement – makes them guarantors on behalf of the Syrian government to use military force only when all consensual political attempts have failed, and to avoid initiating new battles unless previously agreed. All parties agree to attack ISIS, contain its presence, and eliminate the group’s control over Syrian territory.
Just as the year 2016 was ill-fated for ISIS in Iraq, 2017 is expected to be the worse year for ISIS in Syria. The New Year is expected to bring with it features which signal clearly the end of the Syrian war.