The New York Times reports: Turkey’s Parliament approved a motion Thursday that authorizes further military action against Syria, as Turkey began its second day of shelling targets within Syria in response to a mortar attack that killed five civilians.
The measure, which was ratified after several hours of a closed-door session in the capital, Ankara, permits cross-border raids, although senior officials insisted that NATO ally Turkey did not want a war with its Arab neighbor — an escalation that could turn Syria’s bloody civil strife into a regional conflict with international involvement.
The motion read, in part, “The ongoing crisis in Syria affects the stability and security in the region and now the escalating animosity affects our national security,” according to the semiofficial Anatolian News Agency.
The Turkish military pounded targets inside Syria on Thursday in retaliation for the mortar attack a day earlier that killed five civilians in Turkey.
Local news reports said Turkish shells fell inside Syria on at least 10 occasions after midnight, landing near the border town of Tel Abyad, some six miles inside Syrian territory, across a historic fault line where modern Turkey abuts Arab lands that once formed part of the Ottoman Empire.
State television said the shelling continued until dawn with four more barrages until the guns fell silent around 6:45 a.m. Activist groups in Syria said the shelling killed several Syrian government soldiers.
The exchanges sent tremors across a region fearful that the mounting violence in Syria would spill into neighboring countries. Ibrahim Kalin, a senior aide to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, wrote on Twitter feed: “Turkey does not want war with Syria. But Turkey is capable of protecting its borders and will retaliate when necessary.” In a separate message, he said: “Political, diplomatic initiatives will continue.” [Continue reading…]
AFP reports: Turkish troops pounded targets in Syria on Thursday morning in reprisal for cross-border fire that killed five Turkish civilians the previous day, a security source said.
“Artillery fire resumed at 0300 GMT this morning,” the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Several Syrian soldiers have been killed as a result of overnight Turkish shelling across the border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog said earlier, without giving an exact figure.
AFP also reports: Syria has admitted it was responsible for a shelling that killed five civilians on Turkish soil and apologised, Turkey’s deputy prime minister said today.
“The Syrian side has admitted what it did and apologised,” Besir Atalay told reporters.
Michael Koplow sees little evidence that either Turkey, NATO, or Syria have an interest in seeing further escalation.
First, as I have noted too many times to count and as Aaron Stein firmly argued yesterday, there is simply no appetite on NATO’s part to get involved in Syria. Turkey was able to convene an Article 4 meeting in which NATO strongly condemned the Syrian shelling that killed five Turkish civilians, but that is about as far as NATO is willing to go. NATO is not going to get involved in setting up a buffer zone, a no-fly zone, or a humanitarian corridor inside Syria, and the U.S. is also not going to commit to doing any of those things any time soon. It has been clear for a year now that Turkey is not going to invade Syria on its own, which is why Ankara has desperately been trying to convince outside actors to intervene, and absent an international intervention, I don’t see yesterday’s incident changing this calculus. Without international support – and I’d note that Prime Minister Erdoğan has explicitly ruled out anything outside of official UN auspices – Turkey is going to stay out of Syria. With reports of Hizballah fighters and IRGC soldiers crawling inside Syrian borders, the Turkish government does not want to get entangled in a scenario that might quickly blow up out of its control.
Second, there is no reason for Syria not to back away from this as quickly as possible. The only way in which Turkey will be drawn into Syria unilaterally is if the Assad regime escalates this in a serious way, and while Assad and the Syrian army are unpredictable, this is not a fight they are eager to have. Syria has spent months testing Turkey’s patience and trying to figure out what its boundaries are, and yesterday’s events will make it clear to Syria that this was one step too far. The regime has its hands full with the FSA and doesn’t need to add the Turkish military into the mix, which explains the quick decision to express sorrow over the death of Turkish civilians and a promise to investigate. There are two possibilities here; either the shelling was unintentional, in which case Syria has every reason to back down, or it was done on purpose to test how far Turkey is willing to go in retaliation, in which case mission accomplished and Syria still has every reason to now back down. While allowing for the fact that this cannot necessarily be gamed out in an entirely logical manner, I don’t see a scenario in which Syria decides to turn this into a high intensity conflict.
There is little question that Turkey had no choice but to retaliate in some form yesterday. When Syrian forces shot across the border last spring and killed two Syrian refugees in Turkish camps, Turkey threatened retaliatory action but did nothing. When the Turkish F-4 reconnaissance plane was downed this summer, Turkey moved tanks and artillery to the border but ultimately stood down. This time, however, Turkish civilians died, and no government can afford to sit idly by when its citizens are targeted and killed by a hostile foreign government.