BEIRUT – Syria’s cross-border attacks on Turkey in the past week look increasingly like they could be an intentional escalation meant to send a clear message to Ankara and beyond, that the crisis is simply too explosive to risk foreign military intervention.
With Turkey eager to defuse the crisis, the spillover of fighting is giving new life to a long shot political solution, with the Turks floating the idea of making President Bashar Assad’s longtime vice president, Farouk al-Sharaa, interim leader if the president steps aside.
A military option – which would involve foreign powers that already have expressed a deep reluctance to getting involved in the crisis – is still not on the table, analysts say, despite six consecutive days of Turkish retaliation against bombardment from inside Syria.
Syria is aware that Turkey cannot go a step further, said Ali Tekin, assistant professor of International Relations at Ankara’s Bilkent University. The Turkish people don’t want a war, and there are no vital national interests at stake to warrant a war. Syria sees this.
The most recent flare-up between Syria and Turkey started Wednesday, when a shell fired from Syria slammed into a house in the Turkish border village of Akcakale, killing two women and three children. That set off the most serious and prolonged eruption of violence along the frontier since the uprising began nearly 19 months ago.
Turkey responded swiftly by firing back and convening parliament for a vote that authorized further cross-border military operations if necessary.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan cautioned Damascus not to test Turkey’s limits and determination. But the Syrian shelling has continued every day – leading many observers to conclude the acts are intentional provocation.
It’s not an accident. You can’t send shells across the border by mistake five days in a row, said Mustafa Alani, a Middle East analyst of the Geneva-based Gulf Research Center, just hours before Syrian shelling struck Turkey for a sixth day.