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Turkish Military Presence in Syria Worries Iran | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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While some commentators are speculating about a possible change of Turkish policy towards Syria in favor of Iranian and Russian positions, Tehran’s daily Kayhan yesterday launched a scathing attack on Ankara for pursuing a “hidden agenda” in Syria.

The newspaper, reputed to reflect the views of Iran’s “ Supreme Guide” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, claims Turkey is trying to establish a foothold for itself in Syria to bolster the position of “moderate” anti-Bashar Al-Assad forces while preventing Syrian Kurds from creating an autonomous mini-state of their own along the border.

The Turkish military intervention, Kayhan claims, is designed to “legitimize the presence of so-called moderate Syrian forces such as the terrorist group Free Syrian Army.” Kayhan also believes that Turkey’s decision to inform Russia of its military operation in Syria is something of a ruse.

“Afraid of the Russian reaction, Turkey didn’t want to embark on military action without informing Moscow,” the paper claims. This is why Ankara has adopted “a two-faced policy” towards Syria, signaling normalization with President Bashar Al-Assad but in fact providing armor for his opponents.

Kayhan also claims that the fact that Turkey launched its military move exactly when US President Joe Biden was arriving in Ankara for an official visit was “no coincidence.” The daily says “only the passage of time” will show how sincere Turkey may be in hints it has dropped about a possible change of policy on Syria.

According to Tehran analysts, Iran did not expect Turkey to embark on direct military intervention in Syria, a move that is bound to heighten Ankara’s profile in any future decision on the fate of the war-torn Arab country.

“So far Iran was the only foreign power to have a direct military presence in Syria,” says analyst Nasser Zamani. “Much of that presence was in the form of Lebanese Hezbollah fighters as well as Afghan, Iraqi, Pakistani and other foreign mercenaries with no more than a few thousand Iranian so-called volunteers. But no one doubted that Iran was directly present. Turkey’s intervention ends Iran’s monopoly in that respect.”

Over the past few weeks and after sustaining heavy casualties in fighting in and around Aleppo, Iranian military planners have devised what general Mohsen Reza’i, a former Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, calls a “Combat Cordon” along a line spanning parts of central Syria from Damascus to Aleppo. It now seems that Turkey is also trying to establish an alternate salient from its border to Aleppo.

That Tehran is unhappy about current activism by Turkey is reflected in remarks made by Ala-Eddin Borujerdi, the veteran Islamic Majlis member and head of its National Security Committee. “It is more than a year since we established a special Operation Room with Iran, Russia, Syria and Iraq as members to coordinate policies on Syria,” he said in an interview published by official news agency IRNA earlier this week. According to Borujerdi, the “Operation Room” represented the resistance Front led by Iran against the Arrogance Front led by the United States and including Turkey and the Arab states.

According to Mehrdad Farahmand, a leading Mideast analyst for the BBC, Turkey may have reached an understanding with Russia to allow President Assad to stay in Damascus for another year in exchange for Moscow’s acceptance of Ankara’s military intervention in northern Syria.

According to analysts, Tehran is in two minds about the new Turkish activism in Syria. On the one hand, Iran shares Turkey’s concerns about Kurdish secessionist movements that might one day affect Iran’s own 4.5 million Kurds. On the other, while Turkey is in close alliance with Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani who is also close to the United States, Iran supports his rivals in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

To complicate matters further, Turkey turns a blind eye to PJAK, the Iranian wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) when it attacks targets in Iran. In exchange, Iran allows the Turkish PKK to use semi-official safe havens just inside the Iranian border.

As the kaleidoscope turns, one finds Syrian Kurds, who have so far cooperated with Assad, and have recently been backed by the US, facing possible isolation on all sides. “Iran has cast itself as the protector of minorities, especially Alawites, in Syria”, says Hamid Zomorrodi a military analyst. “ Turkey, in contrast, wants to emerge as protector of the Sunni majority. For Iran, losing Assad would mean total humiliation. For Turkey, letting Assad remain in power for more than a few months would be a defeat.”