The first month of Turkey’s Olive Branch operation has elapsed with slow but steady progress toWards Afrin city by the Turkish army and its Free Syrian Army (FSA) allies.
The attempt by Damascus to get pro-regime and, according to the international media, “Iranian backed” militias into Afrin shows, however, that this operation will not have the smooth run some in Ankara were hoping for.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has disclosed that the pro-regime militias were forced back under Turkish shell fire. Be that as it may, though, the undeniable fact is that a new threshold has been crossed, which has the potential to pit Turkey and syria against each other militarily.
Put another way, it is not likely that this is the end of the story. Meanwhile, this episode brings to mind broader questions that will be asked with increased frequency in the coming days.
Following reports that pro-regime militias were entering Afrin, Erdogan worked the phones with russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Warn them that this move by Damascus could have serious consequences.
That much is true, but Ankara must get a good fix on what these consequences might be if it wants to ensure that the situation does not rebound on Turkey.
The first question to ask is whether the Assad regime could have made this highly risky move without some kind of go-ahead from Moscow.
It has to also be remembered that the regime facilitated the transfer of reinforcements by the Peoples Protection Units (YPG) to Afrin, by allowing them to cross over government-controlled territories. This also could not have happened without some russia approval, especially if Moscow had given a true green light to Turkey’s Olive Branch operation.
It is interesting and telling that russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov should have remarked after pro-regime forces tried to enter Afrin that Ankara and Damascus should sort out their differences through dialogue.
Erdogan’s talking to Rouhani is also well enough, but the fact that Iran, which like russia is a strong supporter of the Assad regime, and which not only backs but also provides pro-regime militias in syria, should be kept in mind.
In the fog of War it is not inconceivable, therefore, that while Turkey, russia, and Iran present a picture of happy cooperation on the surface, Ankara could face its own proxy War in syria with Moscow and Tehran.
What is certain is that the situation that has now emerged will make the planned meeting on syria between Erdogan, Putin, and Rouhani, due to be held in Astana in April, that much more interesting.
The U.S. is probably the only side that is happy over this latest turn of events. It has been saying from the start that it has nothing to do with Afrin because it has no military assets or interests there. All the Americans have to do in this case is sit back and watch the show as it unfolds with the potential to leave Turkey, russia, and Iran at loggerheads.