The mainstream insurgent factions in Syria are today united under the banner of the Turkish-backed 'Syrian National Army' (SNA). The SNA has widely come to be viewed as a mere tool in the hands of Turkish national security interests: a proxy to be directed at the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and deviating from the original goals of the revolution (that is, removing the current Syrian government from power). This view of the SNA has been reinforced by the recent Russian-Turkish memorandum of understanding in the wake of Turkey's 'Peace Spring' operation against the SDF east of the Euphrates River. It has been argued that the memorandum effectively means Turkish recognition of Bashar al-Assad, and that the end result has been the significant empowerment of the Syrian government. The latter assertion is a reason figures in Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham have been critical of the SNA.
However, the SNA's leadership takes a different view of matters. Its 'Guidance Administration' put out a short paper (intended for SNA members) arguing that the Russian-Turkish memorandum does not mean that Turkey has abandoned its 'strategic alliance' with the 'Syrian revolution.' In summary, the SNA's argument is as follows:
- Turkey's national security interests require a long-term strategic alliance with the revolution.
- The Russian-Turkish memorandum does not challenge this alliance, but in fact reinforces it. It is an agreement that was reached given the realities of the situation but it is a fragile agreement liable to collapse, particularly in light of factors such as lack of SDF trust in Russia and the Syrian government. Further, the U.S. position is volatile as Trump has pledged to protect the oil fields in Syria and continued support for the SDF. That means that the 'terrorist' threat to Turkish national security will remain.
- The conflict of interests between different forces threatens the essence of the Russian-Turkish agreement.
- One should remember that Turkey's struggle against Kurdish 'terrorist' organizations goes back decades. The problem necessitates a forward Turkish presence in Syria and the Russian-Turkish memorandum does not fundamentally resolve that problem. In truth, the problem remains as long as the Syrian government and the U.S. support the SDF, and a definitive resolution will not come before the Syrian crisis is definitively resolved.
- Turkey's foreign policy is defined by more than just combating terrorist threats. For example, the issue of the large number of Syrian refugees in Turkey is prominent on the Turkish scene, and one should not forget that the 'Peace Spring' operation has aimed to create a new safe zone to settle Syrian refugees and displaced persons (while preserving the virtual safe zones of Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch and expanding the safe zones to include the northwest of Syria). The creation of a new safe zone and settlement of refugees and displaced persons give Turkey and the Syrian opposition leverage in negotiations for the constitutional committee and negotiations for the definitive solution to Syria's crisis.
- In conclusion, Turkey's alliance with the revolution is not a short-term security partnership but rather a long-term alliance driven by Turkey's strategic interests. The culmination of this alliance is a political solution the Syrian people are satisfied with.
Below is the text translated in full.
Challenges to Turkish national security form the basis for a long-term alliance with the Syrian revolution
Prepared by the Guidance Administration
1441 AH-2019 CE
Friday 25th October 2019 CE
Challenges to Turkish national security form the basis for a long-term alliance with the Syrian revolution
There have been different readings of the recent memorandum of understanding between Turkey and Russia concerning northeast Syria, which stipulated solidifying the current situation within the 'Peace Spring' operation and finding new means to counter the terrorist organization PYD/PKK in coordination with the Russians and distancing them from the Turkish-Syrian borders at a depth of 30km in addition to removing them from Manbij and Tel Ref'at, while implementing joint patrols at a depth of 10km along the border, with the exception of the city of al-Qamishli.
What has stirred up many analyses and predictions concerning the agreement and its negative ramifications for the Syrian revolution and what the memorandum- in the event that it is implemented- will constitute from impeding the forces of the National Army and the Turkish army from liberating more of the lands east of the Euphrates, with some hinting that Ankara has preferred that: the program of joint patrols, whose failure was established more than once whether in the periphery of Idlib or in Manbij with the Americans previously!
The agreement does not show in any form Ankara's abandonment of its strategic alliance with the Syrian revolution for the interest of Russia and the Assad regime, and it is what the Turkish president pointed out yesterday during his statements: 'We cannot abandon the Syrian National Army', praising its role with these words: 'It has fought shoulder to shoulder with the Turkish army.' He pointed out that it has offered 96 martyrs in the recent operation.
And what has happened constitutes no more than solidifying the current situation, and trying to legalize it, in the framework of the military and political reality that pushed Ankara to the agreement under compulsions of the reality and field developments. This shows the fragility of the agreement and the probability of its collapse in the event that the military and political facts change, within the complicated situation east of the Euphrates.
In this document we will quickly show the most important factors that show that the recent Russian-Turkish memorandum of understanding does not challenge the strategic alliance between Turkey and the Syrian revolution as has been claimed, but rather it inevitably reinforces that alliance, and deepens it in the coming stage.
1. The battle against terrorism requires a long-term strategic alliance.
Despite the stipulation of the agreement for the withdrawal of the separatist militias at a depth of 30km from the border, Russia does not appear to be capable of fulfilling its pledges, especially on account of the obstinacy of the SDF militia that was affirmed by its leader 'Madhloum Abdi' following the Turkish-Russian agreement that the militias cannot rely on Russia to bring into effect changing of northeast Syria, because its policy arises on the basis of supporting the Assad regime, and not protecting the Kurds in the area according to its expression adding: 'And therefore it is not possible to trust Russia and the Assad regime because they are only interested in their interests.' This threatens the essence of the contracted agreement, especially with the changeability and nebulousness of the American position that has recently stipulated Washington's determination for military forces to remain in Syria, on the pretext of protecting the oil fields.
So Trump has been in personal contact with the leader of the SDF militia- 'Madhloum Abdi'- to set up a milestone on the future of the map of the northeastern region of Syria, and affirm the continuation of Washington's support for the SDF militia in a harsh response to the recent Russian-Turkish mutual understanding, and from the highest level of the American administration embodied in Trump, who tweeted on Twitter following the phone call: 'I very much enjoyed my conversation with General Madhloum Abdi: indeed he values what we have done, and I value what the Kurds have done.' And he continued: 'The time has come for the Kurds to head to the areas of the oil fields.'
For his part the Syrian Democratic Forces leader 'Madhloum Kobani' said following the phone call: 'The American president Donald Trump promised him to preserve the long-term support for his forces and the area in different fields.'
This has shown decisively that the threat to Turkish national security from those organizations has not come to an end as some imagine, and consequently the National-Turkish armies alliance has not come to an end. Indeed the statements of the Turkish president- yesterday on Thursday- have come to affirm that as Recep Tayyip Erdogan indicated the continuation of the military operations, threatening that: 'We will continue our military operations as long as the terrorist threats remain.' He warned about the reintroduction of the terrorist organizations in his words: 'We will not overlook an attempt to reintroduce any terrorist organization through changing its name or flags.' He thus affirmed that if the Kurdish insurgents appear in the safe zone in Syria after the time the withdrawal, Turkey has the right to destroy them.
And perhaps these developments and the statements that have followed them, indicate the size of the conflict of interests between those forces, which threatens the essence of the recent agreement, and shows its fragility and the possibility of its collapse in any moment, opening the space for the Syrian National Army and the Turkish army to restart the military operations.
And perhaps that should remind us of Turkey's long battle with the Kurdistan Workers Party during the 80s and 90s of the past century, which led it to launch multiple military campaigns over the course of up to 40 years, which in some of their parts crossed the Turkish-Iraqi borders, such that it launched up to 24 military campaigns to combat the terrorist militias for the past 35 years. These were based on two agreements: the first in 1983 CE and the second in 1992 CE, which permitted the establishment of 11 military bases there including up to 3000 soldiers present in the north of Iraq until now. This shows the necessity of the forward presence for the Turkish forces in Syria, as there is fear of the reformation of the terrorist Kurdish parties, whose matter has not been fundamentally resolved by the agreement, as the northeast of Syria in the present time constitutes the most prominent base for them. We should also note that those forces aim to hunt down the terrorist militias and bear no other aims or ambitions, which means their withdrawal in the event that the portfolio of the terrorist organizations is done away with. And this does not appear to be near as the Assad regime and the Americans continue to support those organizations in the northeast of Syria, and it does not appear possible to resolve this before coming to a definitive resolution of the Syrian portfolio.
2. The parameters of Turkish foreign policy go beyond the terrorism portfolio.
The parameters of Turkey's foreign policy and the motivations for its military activity are not limited to destroying the terrorist organizations. But rather there are other motives and parameters that cannot be detailed and understood fully in this summary illustration, such as solidifying the regional presence to manage the different portfolios, inside and outside the Syrian borders. And we suffice here with mentioning one of the most prominent of those parameters, and it is the issue of the refugees that has become prominent on the domestic Turkish scene in a conspicuous manner in the past few months, and the talk about it has increased with the Russian escalation in the northwest of Syria. The matter has reached such a point that Turkey has signaled it will open its borders with the European Union before the refugees who have exceeded more than 3.5 million in number. Indeed the striking thing is that the Turkish president has indicated again the issue of the refugees following the agreement directly on Thursday with is words: 'When we threatened to open the borders, they were struck with anxiety.' He added: 'We may open our borders when the time comes for that.' This matter leads us to the other aim of the operation, and it is to make available a new safe zone for the Syrians, in addition to preserving what has been established in Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch, and there is an attempt to expand it to include the northwest, in an attempt to prevent an outburst of more refugees to Turkey.
Indeed Ankara realizes that the Syrians in the areas of Olive Branch, Euphrates Shield and greater Idlib cannot return to the areas controlled by the Assad regime, but rather thousands of them have come from different areas of south and central Syria, and have preferred forced displacement to remaining under the authority of his regime, and this is what the Turkish president affirmed in the past few days pointing out that 'the areas the Kurds control are like the areas the regime controls: no one wants to return them.' Then the size of the area that has been cleansed of the 'YPG' militia that reaches 4200 km squared will enable the return of thousands of refugees and displaced persons, and will give a negotiating force for the opposition and Turkey in the file of the constitutional committee, and the negotiations of the definitive solution to the Syrian portfolio.
Note also the probability of the collapse of the memorandum and the acquiring of new areas, for green space, at the hands of the Turkish and Syrian National armies.
The preceding shows us that Turkey is not striving the alliance with the Syrian National Army in its foreign policy to achieve shared present aims only, but rather it seems that Ankara is looking for more than that, and is trying to establish a long-term alliance with Syria of the revolution, in accordance with its strategic interests, and comes forth from the historic partnership and one fate. And that is so after the realization of a political solution with which the Syrian people are content.