- Special Pages
In the past few days, the rivalry and tensions between Turkey and Syria have reached dangerous proportions, which if not controlled, can lead to disastrous consequences for both and the entire region. The Damascus-Ankara tension is an unexpected fallout of the Syrian uprising and one which doesn’t help the cause of Syrians fighting against the repressive regime of Bashar Al Assad. Assad alone stands to benefit from the current tensions as it will help divert the attention of the international community from the anti-Assad rebellion.
Syria banned Turkish flights from its airspace on Sunday and Turkey retaliated with a similar move. The Syrian action was a reprisal for Turkey confiscating a cargo plane of what Russia said was radar equipment being flown from Moscow to Damascus. There were hectic diplomatic efforts to defuse tension, but there was no sign both sides were ready to step back from the brink.
Turkey started taking a tough stance against Syria since a shell fired from inside Syria killed five Turks on October 3. That attack was a brazen violation of Turkish sovereignty and Ankara was justified in taking retaliatory measures because a failure to do so would have emboldened the Assad regime to repeat its mistake.
At the same time, the government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan needs to proceed cautiously because it is dealing with a regime who is in its last days and therefore has nothing to lose and would resort to anything to prolong its time in power.
Syria is accusing Turkey of channelling arms to rebels who have been under mounting pressure across large areas of the north, including in second city Aleppo. Turkey is one of the few neighbours of Syria which have openly come out in support of the rebels.
The tension between the two should not be allowed to result in an open military conflict because it would result in a huge human toll. Also, it will destabilise the region. Already, Lebanon is feeling the heat of the rivalry. Hundreds of people took to the streets of Beirut for two separate rallies, supporting the Damascus regime and the other calling for its overthrow. It’s creating divisions between Sunnis and Shias in Lebanon, and in Turkey, where all communities live in harmony, the crisis has caused tensions between the Alawites and the Sunnis.
The Syrian uprising has cost Turkey heavily, on the economic as well as other fronts. But what is more disappointing is the failure of the international community to share the burden. The Arab and Western leaders are groping in the dark for a solution to the Syrian crisis and now have taken the role of observers, while Turkey has been directly hit.