Erdoğan gambled against Assad and lost - analyst

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gambled against Syrian President Bashar Assad and lost, International Crisis Group program director Joost Hiltermann wrote for The Atlantic.

Erdoğan took a calculated bet alongside the West and Gulf countries to support rebels fighting against Assad’s rule, but continued to support the rebels for long after others had decided they were a lost cause.

“Instead, the war not only undermined Turkey’s interests as its rebel allies lost their footing—it opened a vacuum that jihadists and the PKK, Turkey’s two most formidable enemies, were keen to exploit,” Hiltermann said.

“Indeed, for Turkey, the Syrian war has become less about overthrowing Assad—a task that became seemingly impossible once Russia entered the war in 2015—and much more about keeping these two groups at bay. Each threatened Turkey: The Islamic State sought to reestablish the caliphate, while the PKK sought to safeguard Kurdish rights. The latter aim, Turkish leaders feared, could eventually encourage the group to press for statehood, and therefore Turkey’s breakup.”

Turkey has been forced to reach out to Russia, Assad’s strongest international ally, in order to protect its interests in the region, he added.

Even so, it is likely threatened with a new refugee crisis as a result of Assad’s forthcoming assault on Idlib, Hiltermann said.

“With impulsive and mercurial leaders in both Washington and Ankara, no one can say how Turkey will navigate the gathering storm,” he said.

“It may count itself lucky if it emerges with mere scrapes from its lost gambles in Syria and the wider region, and does not find itself shipwrecked, with enemies surrounding it.”
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