How Turkey miscalculated in the Mideast

– – Monday, March 2, 2015

Turkey’s miscalculation in its Middle East foreign policy and expectation has led Ankara to undertake the strangest of military operations ever witnessed in this part of the ever-so-turbulent world.

However before we delve into the matter at hand, it is important first to look at some background at how events unfolded leading up to the bizarre military expedition in order to better understand why Turkey committed an almost brigade-sized military unit to rescue an army officer who died here in 1236.

Let it not be said that the Middle East cannot still surprise the rest of the world especially when it comes to strange politics. The Middle East remains a part of the world where if you want to predict what may happen, look at the most unlikely scenario and work your way from there.

While most modern nations are doing away with borders and opening up to their neighbors, some Middle Eastern countries are instead erecting barriers and borders and deploying larger numbers of troops along their frontiers.

Case in point: relations between Syria and Turkey moved from a very warm, good neighborly, tight friendship, in which Turkish cabinet ministers attended cabinet level meetings in Syria and Syrian ministers would do the same in Ankara. Then Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was a frequent visitor to Syria and the Syrian president went to the Turkish capital.

Relations went from one extreme to another, to where they are today: stone cold with Mr. Erdogan, now president, vowing to see Assad thrown out of power. Indeed, Ankara has toiled hard to undermine the Syrian regime, hoping to see the end of Bashar Assad. Naturally, one way of achieving this was to help the Syrian opposition, something Ankara was very generous and accommodating towards. The Turks allowed the Syrian opposition, including the extremists of groups such as the Islamic State to use Turkey as a base, granting them transit rights, training camps, allowing them to recruit, and so forth.

However, as anyone with an inkling of understanding of the Middle East could have predicted, nothing good would have ever emerged from such an unholy alliance. Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish acronym, AKP, was banking on the Muslim Brotherhood controlling the region stretching from Syria to Egypt and on to Libya and Tunisia, sweeping along the way Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine.

Instead what occurred was mayhem in Libya and to a lesser degree in Egypt and rather than having a sympathetic Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Syria on its southern border, instead Turkey is now faced with a potentially dangerous and highly volatile neighbor – and although Sunni Muslim (like the majority of Turks), Syria in its current transformation now represents a clear and present danger to Turkey.

Adding insult to injury, so far as the Turks are concerned, Ankara’s long-time preoccupation and mistrust of the Kurds is now more worrisome than ever as the Kurds are emerging from their confrontation with IS stronger and more determined than ever.

Ankara’s dream of reviving a strong and politically healthy Sunni Muslim belt across North Africa to the Levant is disappearing as fast as a desert mirage. That Turkish dream is turning into a Turkish nightmare as Ankara now finds fanatics at its gates.

As one might deduce, it was only a matter of time before Turkey would eventually clash with the Islamists.

Which brings us around to the recent Turkish military operation that saw Ankara order a battalion-sized incursion into Syria to rescue one long-time dead officer and 38 live Turkish soldiers who were there to guard the dead man’s tomb and perhaps help Erdogan avoid embarrassment.

In what Burak Bekdil, a columnist for the Turkish daily Hürriyet and a fellow at the Middle East Forum described as “one of the most bizarre military operations in recent history,” on the night of February 21, Turkey dispatched, 572 troops, 39 tanks, 57 armored vehicles and 100 other vehicles to extract 38 Turkish soldiers assigned to guards the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the Ottoman Empire’s founder.

The site was located inside Syrian territory but under an agreement with France, at the time, the power ruling Syria, it was considered Turkish territory.

Fearing that ISIS would choose to destroy the site, as they have taken to demolishing other religious sites and historic artifacts in museums, Turkey chose to preempt any such actions by ISIS and moved the burial site and then destroyed the original site before IS could destroy it.

“The tomb rescue operation, at best, could be considered a retreat with a rational explanation,” said Burak Bekdil.

Clearly the Turkish government does not want to confront ISIS, which until recently was its comrade-in-arms against Mr. Assad.

Claude Salhani is a senior editor with Trend and a political analyst.

Opinion: Bill O’Reilly’s very own “Scoop”

By Claude Salhani
(Originally published by UPI)
Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly is under fire for claiming to have been, well, “under fire,” or rather, as he put it, “in a war zone,” during the Falklands war, when in reality no independent reporters made it to the islands.Neither Scoop‘s fictional novel war correspondent William Boot, nor William (Bill) O’Reilly of Fox News, will be first nor the last correspondents to falsely claim to have seen “combat action” when in fact they were many miles away.In more than a dozen conflicts this correspondent has covered there have always been a few reporters who were reluctant to go up to the front lines, saying they needed to get an overall picture of the situation. In reality they were too afraid of the risks involved in going all the way to the front lines. And often just as afraid of telling their editors that they were just not cut out for this line of work.

There is nothing to be ashamed of in having fears while facing the perils of war. In fact most sane people don’t want to go to war. One has to be a little bit deranged to volunteer to go into a war zone. Most of us who have been in a combat zone tell ourselves and others the reason we do this is because we want to show the world the insanity of war or some other noble excuse. And at times we may even believe it ourselves.

The plain truth is that war is addicting. There is this great adrenaline rush, this feeling of having tempted or cheated death. There is a strong sense of camaraderie that develops with fellow correspondents. There is the glory of being able to say “I have been to hell,” and of writing compelling stories and of making some amazing images that cannot be found elsewhere. There is a sense of empowerment is being able to write about such life and death issues that makes everything else seem tame by comparison.

The power of the media is not to be underestimated when it comes to covering conflicts. It was media after all — television in particular — that contributed in a large part in putting an end to the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

Images on the Six o’clock news showing U.S. casualties in Vietnam day after day more than anything else put an end to the conflict in Southeast Asia, at least as far as U.S. involvement was concerned.

Vietnam was the last conflict involving the U.S. military where the media had unlimited access. Any journalist arriving in Saigon would check in with the military media bureau, would be issued press credentials and with those, would hop onto any U.S. military transport, from a Jeep to a helicopter and move around the country and the war zone at will, filming, photographing and interviewing whomever they wanted.

This total freedom of the press proved very costly for the U.S. military, some say it cost them the war. But it was the last time the media would be given such free range in a war zone.

For the press covering the U.S. military in combat it went from one extreme to the other; from Vietnam to Desert Storm, where the military tried to limit and funnel all media access through the JPAB (Joint Public Affairs Bureau).

The war in the Falklands was one where the media was completely controlled by the military. Both British and Argentines kept a very tight lid on what was going on around the islands. The remoteness of the combat area helped the military control what information went out and the only way in which the media could access the zone was aboard vessels of the Royal Navy.

Having learned their lesson in Vietnam, the U.S. military under President George Bush (the elder) deployed U.S. troops to liberate Kuwait after it was occupied by Iraq, then under Saddam Hussein. The U.S. military introduced a pool system and demanded that any journalist who wanted to be accredited would have to sign an agreement abiding by a number of rules.

Covering the Falklands war from the Argentine capital Buenos Aires, a distance of some 1,190 miles, William O’Reilly’s combat experience may well resemble that of William Boot in covering his war in “Ishmaelia,” the fictitious country in Scoop. Neither was a war zone.


Claude Salhani is a senior editor with Trend News Agency, and former war correspondent and a contributing editor to UPI.

click here to see a list of conflicts covered by CLAUDE

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