Turkey Is Now the Most Dangerous Player in the Middle East
JERUSALEM - Turkey carried out widespread air strikes in northern Iraq on Monday, targeting areas where the Yazidi minority lives and which are still trying to recover from the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) genocide.
While Ankara claims it is bombing "terrorists," the areas on Mount Sinjar that have been hit seem to be caves and small structures, and Turkey has provided no evidence to link these Yazidis to threats to Turkey.
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It is another example of Ankara's increasingly brazen attempts to maintain authoritarian rule and extreme nationalism domestically, while using disproportionate military force abroad to attack and occupy parts of Iraq, Syria and Libya.
At a time when conflicts from Syria to Libya and Yemen have divided countries more than ever and have no path to peace or a way in which the locals could have a say in the future, NATO, a member of NATO, has , played an increasingly destabilizing role in almost all of these conflicts.
In November Ankara signed a contract with the Libyan government of the National Agreement, which was being fought in Tripoli, to secure Turkish claims to a large part of the Mediterranean. Turkey sat on Greek and Cypriot waters and spoke of a "blue motherland" at sea. Then she sent drones to Libya and recruited thousands of poor Syrians to fight for Tripoli as mercenaries, ignoring a United States arms embargo. Ankara's increased engagement resulted in Russia increasingly supporting the Libyan opposition as both sides triggered a deadly proxy war.
Then came Turkey's decision to flood the Syrian province of Idlib with its armed forces in February 2020, when Syrian rebel groups supported by Turkey clashed with the Syrian regime. After Turkish soldiers were killed in Idlib, Ankara decided to turn around and threaten Europe with a flood of refugees if nothing more was done to support Turkey. Turkey has triggered another crisis and used desperate Syrians like farmers in Libya.
While Trump is giving up "Endless Wars", Russia, China and Iran are moving in
Meanwhile, Turkey has continued to occupy two areas in Syria, Tel Abyad and Afrin, which have now been cleaned up to use a weighty but appropriate word from hundreds of thousands of Kurds and minorities.
In March, the United Nations said Turkish-backed Syrian rebels cut off nearly 500,000 people in eastern Syria at the height of the COVID-19 crisis. In the Turkish-occupied Afrin, recent clashes have shown that Syrian rebel groups are attacking Kurdish and Yazidi minority women for kidnapping and widespread abuse against minorities. Afrin, once one of the few peaceful areas in the whirlwind of the Syrian civil war, is now dominated by armed militias supported by Turkey, and minorities have either fled or feared.
Ankara's policies have deteriorated over time, accelerated by uncontrolled home demagogy as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government has imprisoned journalists and opposition politicians and threatened neighbors and refugees.
Erdogan apparently feels that he has been given permission to do so due to his close personal relationship with Donald Trump. The two speak often.
Erdogan has also built close ties with Iran and Russia, the other two authoritarian regimes that play an important role in the Middle East. Together, these countries cynically break Syria and Libya into spheres of influence, and Turkey's military operations in northern Iraq, which often bomb areas where refugees and internally displaced people live, continue without international setback.
Here's the bottom line: While the US has focused on Iran as the cause of instability in the Middle East, Turkey is quickly becoming a much bigger threat. His NATO membership gives him permission to bomb and invade countries without criticism. It brazenly sends deputies and mercenaries to Libya, bombs the poorest and most vulnerable areas of the Yazidis in Iraq, illegally occupies Afrin and threatens its neighbors and dissidents at home. In order to reach the veneer of support for its operations, Ankara has even hijacked social media, as a recent Twitter study with Stanford's Internet Observatory revealed 37 million fake tweets from pro-government propagandists.
The United States and the international community must stop responding to any Ankara threat and demand that Turkey comply with international law, but the Trump administration's increasing isolationism has encouraged Turkey's aggression, which it believes is acting with impunity can.
This continues a decade of wars in the Middle East and has triggered a vicious circle of conflict in vulnerable areas like Sinjar. Instead of enabling the reconstruction of areas recently hit by ISIS, these new rounds of conflict, fueled by Turkey's ambitions, are keeping the region from healing. The spreading chaos in Ankara has undermined almost everything that has been done in the post-IS period to achieve stability in Syria, Iraq and the entire region.
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