By Ollie Richardson
“We entered [Syria] to end the rule of the tyrant al-Assad who terrorizes with state terror. [We didn’t enter] for any other reason.”
The quote shown above originates from the Turkish Hürriyet newspaper dated 29th November 2016. At face value the quote itself looks quite menacing and an almost like an act of war, although admittedly nowadays, due to developments in technology and the emergence of Fourth Generation warfare, what can be defined as a “war” is debatable. For example, the US-led coalition’s bombing of Syrian troops in Deir Ezzor on 17th September, 2016, could also be viewed as a “declaration of war”. The US had never previously bombed ISIS on that hill, which the Syrian Army has controlled for some years, and the airstrike that killed over 100 Syrian troops was not coordinated with Russia. But alas, the nuclear codes were not being dusted down, and certainly no fingers were hovering over red buttons.
In the grand scheme of things, this incident certainly had importance, but nothing like the shooting down of a Russian Su-24 on the Syrian-Turkish border. This resulted in the placement of the S-400 SAM system at Russia’s Hmeymim airbase in Latakia – a move that essentially ended US hegemony in the Middle East.
A more recent example of an event that could be interpreted as a “declaration of war” is the bombing of Damascus by Israeli warplanes on 29th November, 2016. Four missiles were launched from outside Syrian territory, likely at Hezbollah targets. But alas – there were no sensationalist headlines on display regarding this incident from both the mainstream and the “alternative” media. It was just simply another day in Syria.
But Erdogan’s statement about “removing Assad” is apparently different. A few initial questions can be asked in order to examine this combination of words:
1) Did Turkey attack any Syrian Army positions during Operation Euphrates Shield?
The answer here is no. The focus of the operation was the displacement of the Kurds, under the guise of fighting ISIS, and asserting Turkish influence in northern Syria. The recent incident involving the Syrian airforce bombing Turkish proxies outside al-Bab has been logically explained as the “reformatting of the Rules of Engagement”. Russia’s agreement with Turkey involving the latter’s entrance in the Syrian theatre did not provisionally include any definite red lines. Thus, these lines will be drawn in the sand where ever and when ever it is deemed necessary. For Russia, al-Bab is clearly a red line, and Turkey now knows not to cross it.
2) Did Russia attack Turkey when it initially crossed the border during Operation Euphrates Shield?
Again, the answer here is no. In fact, Russia was silent about the US air support accompanying the Turkish tanks crossing the border near Jarablus. A statement was made by the Syrian President condemning the incursion, but the Russian side was relatively quiet – no condemnation was forthcoming.
3) How did the Russian side react to Erdogan’s statement?
The Russian side is quoted as saying, “We tried to understand whether it was quoted as it had been said. It was not a direct quote, but a retelling of what had been said ‘off-the-record’. We rely on the public statements”. I.e. Russia knows how the PR game works, and will treat “statements” with “statements”. Or in other words, nothing to see here, move on!
So, linking together the chain of events – the actions and reactions – it becomes very difficult to describe Erdogan’s 29th November statement as anything other than political rhetoric.
The same conclusion was drawn by geopolitical analyst Israel Shamir, who wrote on Facebook: “Don’t panic! Turkey is not going to conquer Syria and overthrow Assad. Erdogan spoke, but the army did not move. There is no intensification of the war. The statement is a statement for internal reasons.”
Elijah J. Magnier, another extremely reputable analyst who calls a spade a spade, and who is in direct contact with commanders on the ground in Syria (and Iraq), summarised for StalkerZone what the statement means:
“In summary: Erdogan is saying this to divert the attention on what Assad just did in Al-Bab by humiliating him and his army. He is frustrated because he can’t react, due to Russia determination to prevent Turkish soldiers and proxies from taking position on the gates of Aleppo. Assad, for the first time, imposed sovereignty over his air space and prevented Turkey from using its F-16. Therefore, he would say anything. His speech doesn’t fit anywhere really but to vent his anger and nothing more. This is neither politics not diplomacy but an emotional speech.”
“Since a week, Turkish forces and their Syrian proxies stopped close to al-Bab. This means Erdogan is taking seriously the Syrian-Russian menace of hitting his forces if ever he ventures beyond what was tolerated (Jarablus). In fact, Turkey sent the head of its intelligence and its Foreign Minister to Iran to discuss this particular issue and the Russian message behind it.
Turkey heard from the Iranians “there is compromise on the unity of Syria” and that the presence of Turkish troops close to the Syrian Army may open a new front Russia will not accept. Therefore, Turkey is not expected to enter al-Bab but can limit itself to be angry on TV. If, for any reason, Turkey pushes forces into al-Bab, the tension between Ankara and Moscow will return. This time, Russia is determine to protect its forces and its military facilities in Syria whoever is the enemy and at all costs.”
Alas, despite the presence of reliable analysis available in the information space, the more sensationalist spin of events becomes the dominant narrative.
Zerohedge.com, which publishes under pseudonyms and predicts a financial crisis every other hour, decided to run this title:
And The Duran couldn’t make its mind up whether to go full-Hollywood or to actually report things objectively. The first screenshot is the article’s first headline, and the second is the result of a later edit:
In a similar manner to how the media gave ISIS the platform it so badly craved (because after all it was win-win – ISIS get their soapbox to encourage potential recruits to come join the “cause”, and the media makes money from selling fear-inducing and sensationalist water), Erdogan must be glad that he can at least drop some bombs in the information sphere without reciprocation, because he for sure won’t now dare to do it over the skies of Syria.
Do armchair analysts naively parrot PR statements as God’s word, or is there conscious intent to milk the sensationalist cash-cow dry? If the last 15 years (and the last 5 specifically) is anything to go by, then it would appear to be a mixture of both. Let’s hope that the current crop of delirious “analysts” seeking excitement from explosions and war don’t transform themselves into Judith Miller 2.0.
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