No, Turkey is not going to go to war. Yes, it adopted a law that makes cross border operations into ‘foreign countries’ possible, but that should be considered a warning, absolutely not a declaration of war.
Turkey is shouting itself down somewhat. It is trying to demand things: a no fly zone, a safe haven across the border, an end to the violence. But its demands are never met. You would think that you would lower your tone a bit when you are not being listened to, but Prime Minister Erdogan and also Foreign Minister Davutoglu choose not to.
One of the results of their demands not being heard is the mortar that came across the border yesterday and killed five people in the border town of Akcakale. If there had been a safe zone in Syria, there would not have been ongoing trouble between Syrian government troops and the Free Syrian Army over control of the border post right there. This fighting has been bothering Akcakale for almost two weeks already, and some firing had already crossed the border before, luckily without hurting anybody. If there had been a safe zone, the mother, three of her children and another relative would still be alive.
Turkey is, in short, basically alone in this. It is the only NATO country directly affected by the civil war in Syria. Other NATO countries don’t have to take care of thousands of refugees, and their citizens’ lives are not under threat from spill-over violence. The only thing that Turkey can really do now is bark really, really hard. So that’s what it tried to do today.
I talked about the situation with several experts today. The conclusion is: this was not a calculated attack from Syria, it was an accident and Syria regrets it. Syria doesn’t want a war with Turkey while it’s busy killing its own citizens. Another front with a powerful country with a strong army is the last thing on their wish list. So the idea is that Syria will really try hard to not let this happen again. Because Turkey might be alone in this, you never know what Erdogan is capable of, especially with this new law in his hands.
But if it does happen? It’s not unthinkable. Remember not too long ago a Turkish plane was downed by Syria? Then Turkey quickly changed the ‘rules of engagement’, and the result of that was that now there was an immediate retaliation by Turkey. Can and will Turkey live up to its threat to immediately intervene even without parliament convening to discuss it, if Syrian fire crosses the border again? No, probably not.
In that case, there is still one hurdle to be taken that can take long enough for Erdogan to cool down. Turkey doesn’t want to act without its allies. And the biggest ally, the US, won’t do anything, at least for sure not till the elections are over. And after those elections, would NATO join Turkey in an attack when there is no clear planned attack by Syria? Doesn’t seem very likely. Is it thinkable that in that case Turkey act on it’s own? The point is: we don’t know. Erdogan has been predictable till so far in wanting international support, but who knows if there’s an end to his patience.
So, we have to hope that the barking scared Syria off. I heard some reports that the Syrian army is indeed retreating from the border area. And if Syrian fire does come over the border again, that Erdogan can keep his cool, and his reaction will not be based on his own image of himself as being a very powerful man, with the new law backing him. Inside Turkey, he is a powerful man indeed. On the international stage though, he is mainly a loudly barking dog. And you know what they don’t do.