BEIRUT

Editorial

On a knife’s edge

Turkish soldiers in a military vehicle patrol on the Turkish-Syrian border near the village of Hacipasa in Hatay province, southern Turkey October 12, 2012. (REUTERS/Osman Orsal)

Since the internal Syrian conflict began, violence has sporadically spilled over its borders, at times killing civilians in Lebanon, but this last week’s events on the border with Turkey represent a potentially catastrophic turning point which could turn the civil war into a regional one.

When the first shells fell in Turkey, killing five civilians and prompting Ankara to attack army posts, the Syrian regime said they would investigate the incident. But when shells fell inside Turkish territory for a second day, it became clear that this was not going to be an isolated event.

Then with the news that Turkey had intercepted a passenger plane flying from Moscow to Syria, on suspicion that it contained arms, sparking a war of words between the two countries, tension increased even further.

Turkey is now claiming it has evidence that Russia has indeed been sending arms to the Syrian regime, a charge the Kremlin has been consistently denying. This threatens already unstable relations between Ankara and Moscow, and Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday canceled his scheduled weekend trip to Turkey.

With Turkey now part of the fray since its government has granted the army autonomy to act, the perimeters of the Syrian war look to be encroaching beyond its borders. With the border increasingly fortified, littered with Turkish and Syrian army tanks, it is beginning to more closely resemble a war zone than a demarcation line between two sovereign territories.

This escalation of events may appear as an unwanted turn of events. But it’s more than likely that those within the upper echelons of the Syrian regime are viewing it favorably, providing, as it is, a distraction from domestic affairs and the death counts. The media spotlight has now shifted to the Turkish and Syrian border, rather than the alleys and homes of Aleppo, where destruction continues unabated.

The Turkish assaults also fit snugly with the regime line that this entire conflict has been created and manipulated by external actors.

But as the history of wars often reveals, many of the worst conflicts have started due to a seemingly small miscalculation, miscommunication or stray bullet.

With the region as much of a powder keg as it has ever been, this escalation of activities on the borders promotes nothing but chaos and further bloodshed. Common sense and clear thinking is desperately needed before the border clashes draw in regional, or international partners, and all the while the Syrian people who are really suffering will continue to be ignored.

The Syrian regime thinks that by involving other countries in its mess this will divert some pressure. It is gravely mistaken, however. And it should know, better than many, that the Turkish army is not one to be toyed with. Support from its last remaining friends may not be enough to save it now, and its final days may be sooner than originally imagined.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 13, 2012, on page 7.

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