Ankara's plans to extend Syrian offensive

Turkey's President Erdoğan announced on Saturday that "Operation Olive Branch" will be extended southwards to Idlib province. The Turkish army has been fighting the Kurdish militia in the northern Syrian province of Afrin for a week now. Commentators take a look at the offensive's motives and chances of success.

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The Guardian (GB) /

Afrin could become Turkey's Afghanistan

A swift victory for Turkey in Afrin is by no means certain, Middle East expert Gareth Stansfield writes in The Guardian:

“At the immediate tactical level, the battle-hardened Kurds are already inflicting serious damage upon Turkey's proxy forces. Will the military forces of Turkey have more success? It is unlikely or, at least if they do, it will come at a very considerable cost. The Turkish military is still recovering from the failed coup of July 2016 against President Erdoğan. If Turkish forces, or even their proxies, become bogged down in a bloody fight in Afrin, it is Erdoğan's judgment that could be called into question by a population that he himself has made more nationalistic and anti-Kurdish.”

Hürriyet Daily News (TR) /

Almost everyone backs government's course

Hürriyet Daily News looks at why hardly anyone in Turkey is criticising the offensive in Afrin:

“Especially if the issue is related to military solutions; the whole nation is expected to be united under one banner. That is why currently all political parties - with the exception of the Kurdish issue-focused Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) - are supporting the military campaign of the government. It is not only out of fear of being labelled as 'anti-national,' but also because all parties, including the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), represent different versions of nationalism and militarism. Besides, the last confrontation is related to the Kurdish problem, and again all political currents have similar views concerning the issue.”

Delovaya Stolitsa (UA) /

A reward for Turkish Stream 2

Ruslan Wessel point out in Delovaya Stolitsa that Moscow's seal of approval for the Turkish offensive in Syria coincides with Ankara's green light for the construction of a second pipeline in the 'Turkish Stream' gas pipeline project:

“This makes it less likely that Ankara will let Russia down again - as it did with 'Blue Stream' when Ankara refused to build a new pipeline through which Moscow wanted to transport gas not just to the Turks but to the Europeans too. And we can expect more Turkish-Russian compromises that go beyond the context of the two countries' cooperation in the Syria conflict. For example Turkish ships could start calling at the ports in Crimea.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

Turkey is rightly alarmed

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung shows understanding for the Turkish offensive:

“The Syrian Kurds against whom the Turkish Operation Olive Branch is aimed were an important ally for the West in defeating the Islamic State; on the other hand their struggle for autonomy and even their own state has been a destabilising factor that could have repercussions for the situation in the south of Turkey - which is a member of Nato. The German government recognises this in speaking of Ankara's 'legitimate security interests'. ... No one will benefit from a Nato that is further weakened.”

News.bg (BG) /

Ankara wants to destabilise Kurdistan

The Turkish military offensive in Syria is aimed at destroying one of Kurdistan's three power centres, writes news.bg:

“While Operation Euphrates Shield was aimed at creating a safe zone south of the Turkish border, the goal of Operation Olive Branch is to physically destroy one of the three main Kurdish administration units in northern Syria. Based on the assumption that the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Syria is founded upon the three main centres Afrin, Kobane and Jazira, this means that Ankara is using the three-legged stool effect here: destroy one of the legs and watch the whole stool collapse.”

Nowaja Gaseta (RU) /

Russia wants to fulfil an old dream

Moscow gave Ankara the green light for its offensive and withdrew its own military mission from Afrin, speculating that this would widen the rift between Turkey and the West, military expert Pavel Felgengauer explains in Novaya Gazeta:

“A prolonged 'Operation Olive Branch' can only lead to Turkey's isolation [within Nato] and even to sanctions, at least personal sanctions against the Turkish leadership. This in turn could trigger a major geopolitical readjustment. It is an old dream of the Russian leadership to bring Turkey to renounce its traditional Western partners - so that together they can guard the gates to the imperial city of Constantinople on the Bosphorus and in the Dardanelles. The tsars have always dreamed of this. And for this dream they are willing to see the Kurds unceremoniously removed.”

Contributors (RO) /

Erdoğan considers the West non-essential

Writing in Contributors, political scientist Valentin Naumescu also expects a geopolitical about-face on Ankara's part:

“While Europe's hopes in Turkey are dwindling the Erdoğan regime is increasing its focus on the Middle East and disregarding its ties to the West. ... An internal power strategy is at play here. Erdoğan has recognised two things: first, the West is no longer a united force, the US is withdrawing from Europe and globally. Second, 'neo-Ottomanism' secures more votes for Erdoğan than the liberal, pro-Western discourse that had kept him in power since 2003.”

Artı Gerçek (TR) /

Hypocritical restraint

Artı Gerçek is angry about the way the world is reacting to the offensive:

“[US Secretary of State] Rex Tillerson is doing one U-turn after another to avoid upsetting Turkey and triggering a confrontation with Russia. ... The European states, first and foremost the UK, are no less hypocritical than the US and Russia. The UN leadership has declared that there are civilian victims, but puts them on par with the attackers by warning both parties to exercise restraint. We don't even need to discuss the disgrace of the Arab states. Those who side with Syria believe the country will emerge stronger from this situation and Russia will maintain its stance in Syria's favour. And those who side with Turkey see a confrontation between the US and Turkey as beneficial to their own interests.”

Die Tageszeitung taz (DE) /

Shouting about Afrin but staying silent on Idlib

All those who are up in arms over the Turkish invasion mustn't forget Assad's offensive in Idlib, the taz urges:

“The people are running through the heavy rain to take refuge from the regime's repeated airstrikes in the few civil institutions that are still intact. Help is hardly possible, the world's politicians remain silent. ... It may sound trite to speak of double standards, but here that's exactly the case. 5,000 people fleeing from Erdoğan make headlines, 250,000 fleeing from Assad don't. ... When it's about Arabs and Assad people prefer not to take sides. When it's Kurds and Erdoğan, by contrast, certainty rules, it's clear who's good and who's evil. Who remembers the simple principle: human rights are indivisible? Those who stand up for human rights can't shout about Afrin yet remain silent about Idlib.”

The Independent (GB) /

Dangerous arrogance

The attack on the Syrian Kurds is counterproductive in every respect, The Independent rails:

“Turkey's invasion of Syria will most certainly escalate that level of violence against Turkish civilians at home and against Turkish forces at home and abroad. The delusion reigning in Ankara is that the Kurdish question can be ended by using violence and in concert with any unsavoury partners and at any cost to its long-term relations with Nato and America. To call it a gamble on President Erdogan's part is to dignify it with some sort of rational calculation. It is, in fact, a thoroughly dangerous act of arrogance verging on mindlessness.”

Večernji list (HR) /

Erdoğan attacking with Putin's permission?

Večernji list is bemused by Turkish news reports according to which Ankara got Moscow's permission before invading:

“Prior to the offensive on Afrin, alternative media in Turkey wrote that the operation had been long in the planning and that President Erdoğan had openly threatened to 'destroy all terror nests in this part of Syria'. According to Turkish experts, Ankara was only waiting for a green light from Moscow to start the well-planned operation. As proof they cite the surprise visit by the Turkish chief of staff and intelligence to Moscow, during which the offensive in Afrin was discussed. It seems bizarre for the head of the second-largest Nato army to travel to Moscow, especially to discuss the start of an operation in a third country.”

tagesschau.de (DE) /

German tanks shouldn't be in Syria

It is unacceptable that Turkey is apparently using German tanks against the Kurds, tagesschau.de remonstrates:

“Until now supplying arms to Nato and EU countries has been considered unproblematic. After all, Nato considers itself a community of values. But the Turkish military intervention shows once again that ideas about what is right and what is wrong vary greatly even within the Western alliance. ... The weapons deliveries weren't intended for use in offensives like this that contravene international law. But the German government is powerless and must now look on as the Syria conflict escalates thanks to German weapons. ... Arms exports must be subject to greater scrutiny - including those to Nato countries.”

El Periódico de Catalunya (ES) /

Syria serves as battefield for others

Turkey is adding another front line in the Syrian war, El Periódico de Catalunya complains:

“Like everything in this war this intervention is a move in defence of certain strategic interests in a game in which Syria is nothing but the chessboard. The region now under attack is controlled by Syrian-Kurdish militia with close ties to the PKK, the Kurdish-Turk organisation Erdoğan is fiercely combating. ... If up to now Syria has been the battlefield for Shiites and Sunnis, Iran and Saudi Arabia, Russia and the US, now it is also the place where the war between Turkey and the Kurds is being continued. At the expense of the civilian population.”

Al-Ahram (EG) /

A state is being carved up

Turkey and the US are readying themselves for long-term occupation of the majority Kurdish areas of northwest Syria and thus pose a threat to the country's unity, Al-Ahram suspects:

“Once the Turks have taken Afrin they will probably advance deeper into Syria. That being the case they will no doubt attempt to hold on to these areas and justify their occupation with reference to their national security and the war on terror. On the surface it looks as if the US and Turkey have huge differences of opinion, but developments in the region tell a different story. ... Russia, meanwhile, has made no serious attempts to stop Turkey's advance. ... So it seems there is a consensus to divvy up Syria and allow various spheres of influence to prevail there.”

Delo (SI) /

UN once again godfather to a genocide?

Delo is disappointed at the way the international community has reacted to the Turkish offensive:

“The United Nations is once again acting as the godfather of all 'modern' genocide. It's easy to sacrifice the Kurds for 'higher goals'. It always has been. But this particular Turkish excursion to the northwest of Syria is far more risky and complex in geopolitical terms than the lame international and regional diplomatic reaction indicates. At this moment Nato's two biggest armies stand opposite each other. ... In conjunction with the notoriously irrational behaviour of the presidents of both states one wrong step could open up a new front in the completely destroyed Syria and create an immense human tragedy.”

Handelsblatt (DE) /

Refugees' return to Syria a long way off

The longer the war in Syria continues, the clearer it is that the Europeans and Americans are also pursuing different goals, Handelsblatt writes:

“The Europeans' strategy is aimed at using funds for the country's reconstruction as leverage to secure concessions from the tyrannical regime in Damascus and at some point make it possible for the war refugees to go back home. For the time being, however, the Americans aren't interested in reconstruction. They prefer a weak and divided Syria to a stable and safe one because their main enemy is sitting in Tehran, and Syria is traditionally allied with Iran. Hence yet another dream is being crushed in the grinding wheels of power politics: the European dream of the Syrian refugees soon returning to their home country.”

Daily Sabah (TR) /

Ankara killing two birds with one stone

The offensive not only closes security loopholes in Turkey but also in Syria, Daily Sabah writes:

“The Turkish border lies to the north and the west of the Afrin region, which has been used by the PKK to infiltrate terrorists into Turkey and to carry out their secessionist campaign. So Turkey is aiming to kill two birds with one stone. The first is to eliminate the terrorist threat that has been concentrated across its border. Turkish intelligence says that in only the past few months, the PKK has sent 200 terrorists into Turkey from this region and all of them have been caught. Second is the fact that once you clear Afrin from terrorists you can give the area back to its rightful owners, the local Syrians who have been terrorized by the PKK for several years.”

Izvestia (RU) /

PYD fighters are Washington's sacrificed pawns

The Turkish army's Operation Olive Branch against the US-backed Kurdish forces in Afrin is the result of a US-contrived provocation, Izvestia believes:

“With the current escalation the Americans have achieved one objective: any political solution to the Syria crisis was, if not halted altogether, then at least seriously undermined. ... And by exploiting the Kurds the Americans have consolidated their presence in Syria. Because in recent weeks the major accusation levelled at the US was that after the victory over the IS, US troops are no longer needed in Syria. Washington has now managed to wriggle out of this situation. Notwithstanding all the condemnations voiced by all kinds of US institutions, the Turkish operation plays right into America's hands.”

The Guardian (GB) /

Erdoğan bombarding himself into isolation

The Turkish president is taking a big diplomatic risk with his strategy in northen Syria, The Guardian concludes:

“Erdoğan’s big problem, Kurdish resistance aside, is that none of the big players support him. ... All three - Iran, Assad and Russia - would rather have the Kurds controlling swaths of northern Syria than Isis. ... Rightly or wrongly, he sees northern Syria as Turkey’s number one security challenge. He also appears, yet again, to be dealing the 'Kurdish terror' card to a domestic audience. Turkey’s leader is now almost totally isolated internationally - but appears not to care.”

Die Welt (DE) /

Kurds at the crossroads

Die Welt explains why Turkey's fight against the Syrian Kurds is wrong:

“The Kurdish PYD is a stability factor in Syria. It was a decisive force in the victory over the terrorist IS. It has created a public community in northern Syria by ruling alongside allied Christians and Sunni Arabs as democratically as it is possible to do in a civil war. ... Washington warned Turkey ahead of the attack. But can the West really not do more? ... If the Western democracies sacrifice the Kurds for the sake of their alliance arithmetic once more, the cost will be historic. Then a stateless people that has learned to fight for both terror and democracy will be pushed in the wrong direction without any alternative.”