Reports have emerged about Turkey’s real agenda for northern Syria after a recent Erdogan tour to the Gulf States. According to Al-Monitor, Ankara outlined plans to militarily take Manbij and Raqqa and establish a “safe zone” administered by a “new national army”. Such an army will be created out the merging of rebel groups and will operate under supervision of the Turkish Armed Forces.
Turkey has already been setting up a new police force in the “liberated areas”. Pictures at their headquarters show the rebel flag together with the Turkish one and a portrait of Sultan Erdogan. Videos of the new security forces have emerged, with their officials chanting “Long live Turkey, Long live Erdogan”.As the Turkish army fights against the Islamic State in northern Syria, rebel supporters have been cheering this move as a “liberation” by the “Free Syrian Army”, even when their contribution in the battle is insignificant (not to say useless in the face of recent setbacks at the Al-Bab front).
Ankara has already proposed the Trump administration a joint US-Turkish ground invasion of in order to take Raqqa, which would risk an open confrontation with the Syrian army or the Kurdish forces (supported by the US at this moment).
It is also in the plans of the Turkish government to repopulate northern Syria with Arab and Turkmen civilians. The later may also include Uighur Muslims, whose migration from China to Syria has been heavily encouraged by the MIT, the Turkish intelligence body.
This “grand design” would be completed with the construction of “mega-cities” which will be filled with hundreds of thousands of refugees (the first time I heard this idea was from Erdogan himself during a conference in Chile the past year).
Going back in history, in Lebanon we found a precedent for such “divide and colonize” approach: the “South Lebanon Army” (earlier known as the “Free Lebanon Army”), an Israel proxy, who controlled south of the country as a cover for the Israeli expansion and plundering of natural resources, in the midst of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990).
Born in 1976 as a splinter group from the Lebanese Army, the SLA fought against Palestinian militias and their progressive allies in the Lebanese National Movement.
After Israel invaded Lebanon for the first time in 1978, the SLA became a proxy militia at the service of the occupying power, controlling a territory known as the “Security Zone” (a “safe zone”, in our modern-day terminology). It recruited Christian, Shia, and Druze as mercenaries and run concentration camps in coordination with Israel.
This move was seen at the time as an attempt to push for the “Greater Israel” that hardcore Zionists advocated, much as now Erdogan seems to be pushing to create a new “Ottoman Empire”.
After the 1982 invasion, the emerging Islamic resistance movement – Hezbollah – became the SLA’s greatest enemy. Then, a 17-year-long guerrilla warfare spearheaded by Hezbollah and other resistance forces (backed by Syria and Iran) took place, resulting in the expulsion and surrender of SLA mercenaries, and the withdrawal of Israeli army in May 2000. It was the first defeat Israel suffered at the hands of Arab forces in his entire history.
What this story tells us is that, no matter how strong is the occupying power, their designs for divide and rule are doomed to failure if a strong resistance is build.
The Syrian government will not allow the carving up of their country; local forces will not allow that either. On the other hand, the emergence of an artificial Turkish “statelet” in northern Syria will not please Kurdish organizations – who are also trying to create their so-called “Rojava” as a continuum along the Turkish-Syrian border.
Erdogan’s delusional projects may very well push for closer coordination and cooperation between the Syrian government and Kurdish forces, in an arrangement that could help to speed up the end of this brutal war.