On Jan. 20, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) launched Operation Olive Branch in coordination with Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces against People's Protection Units (YPG) terrorists in Afrin. This marks Turkey's third such attempt to restore stability in Syria, neutralize terrorist organizations like Daesh and the YPG and, of course, provide an environment that allows Syrian refugees to return to their homes. Turkey is taking on responsibility once more and undertaking another risk with Operation Olive Branch now, after Operation Euphrates Shield and the Idlib operation.
Turkey has suggested proposals to the U.S.-led coalition almost from the start of the Syrian civil war to create a safe zone in northern Syria because Turkey's security along its longest border, the 911 kilometers it shares with Syria, is also NATO's responsibility. Due to the problems it faces on the Mexican border that runs largely across flat terrain, the U.S. could definitely empathize with the kind of troubles Turkey is having on its border with Syria, which contains more problematic natural features.
Both Daesh and PKK militants were crossing this border via Afrin, especially before Operation Euphrates Shield, and killing civilians. Hundreds of civilians and security forces were killed in separate Daesh and PKK attacks in Istanbul, Ankara, Kayseri, Reyhanlı, Ceylanpınar, and Kilis. Of course, that is not the full tally. Turkey has lost thousands of people in total in attacks by Daesh, the PKK and other terrorist groups during the last five or six years. In addition, it has taken in nearly 4 million innocent Syrians and Iraqi refugees.
Let's say that NATO, the U.S. and our European friends are insensitive to the damage sustained and the heavy burden shouldered by Turkey, which we have already understood from such attitudes as the EU not delivering promised financial aid and from the lack of solidarity in the wake of the July 15 coup attempt. But why do they remain insensitive to the threat stemming from NATO's easternmost border falling into the hands of terrorist groups and becoming unstable, making Europe and the West less secure?
For example, although Turkey had provided intelligence before a bomb attack in Belgium, authorities failed to track a suspected Daesh militant. Although Turkey fulfilled its duties as an ally even under these difficult circumstances, it came against a wall of insensitivity. On the other hand, PKK and YPG supporters, along with Gülenist Terror Group members (FETÖ), could walk freely in front of and inside parliament buildings in Europe, threatening Turks in Europe. The unacceptable treatment of Turkish ministers in Europe ahead of the April 16 referendum became all the more unpleasant considering the somehow boundless tolerance for terrorist groups.
Speaking about Operation Olive Branch, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made a quite correct observation:
"Unilateral actions by the U.S. in Syria have infuriated Turkey. Either it misunderstands the different dynamics in Syria or engages in deliberate provocation. It is using Kurds
[in reference to YPG militants]to establish control over Syria's border with Turkey. The U.S. has embarked on the creation of alternative authorities in large parts of Syrian territory. Washington supplies modern arms to groups that cooperate with them, especially the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is largely dominated by the YPG."
Therefore, the American claim that Russia wants to damage good relations between NATO members does not hold. Naturally, Russia may have such a purpose, but Turkey will not serve it. Who can say anyway that the U.S. and NATO act responsibly to duly prevent any harm to Turkey? How will Turkey interpret the shipment of 5,000 truckloads of weapons to the YPG when the PKK is still engaged in terrorist activities in Turkey and the YPG with ethnic cleansing in northern Syria, and whose collaboration with Daesh in Raqqa and Afrin has been proved? Would the U.S. agree to another country sending thousands of truckloads of weapons to the drug cartels on the Mexican border? Or, as in the case of the leader of FETÖ living in Pennsylvania, if an American enemy lived in a mansion on 1,000 acres in Ankara, what would Washington think of Turkey?
Turkey, in accordance with U.N. resolutions, is engaged in a lawful and legitimate operation to get rid of terrorist elements, ensure the security of its borders and put an end to terrorists infiltrating its border and targeting the country and Europe. Turkey does not have an eye on even an inch of Syrian territory. As President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has declared, after risks are eliminated, Turkey has no wish or intention to remain in the places it has entered. The U.S., instead of making an impossible demand to put a time limit on the operation, should firmly contribute to Syria's stability, which would ensure a swift conclusion to the operation.
Despite having such crucial troubles with the U.S., Turkey fulfills its responsibilities and shows its goodwill in trying not to strain relations, keeping communication channels open and engaging in steady dialogue. One would agree that the country that should take a step here is the U.S. First of all, Washington should stop providing heavy weapons and equipment to the YPG and retrieve those already given. It should stop collaborating with a terrorist organization. In the face of Turkey's capabilities, it should not legitimize a terrorist group against the Daesh terrorist group that is already defeated. Turkey is ready to cooperate on every issue.
Additionally, the U.S. should keep its word on Manbij and expel the YPG. This is entirely an Arab region. Turkey is ready to take responsibility there, too. And if need be, Turkey will do it instead of the U.S.
The fact that FETÖ leader Fetullah Gülen still lives in the U.S. after the wicked and bloody coup attempt in Turkey, being free to hatch evil plans and threaten Turkey and doing this with the taxes paid by American citizens going to charter schools in the U.S. is unacceptable. Only enemies do that to each other. The U.S. should deport Gülen to Turkey at once and get rid of this perverse cult before it leads to any further harm to Americans, as well.
It is imperative not only for both countries but also for the region and the world that the U.S. and Turkey restore their alliance and mutual trust. And the steps to achieve this are apparent – supporting Operation Olive Branch and taking the above-mentioned measures. It is crucial that U.S. President Donald Trump grasps the situation and takes swift action.
Is there an axis shift?
We keep repeating that Turkey is a democratic Western country. There is not an axis shift, but political diversification. Turkey is the only democratic line that extends to the Middle East. It should be seen that instability in Turkey would cause serious trouble in Europe and the world. This folly has to stop before prejudices and lack of information and temporary and misled realpolitik targets start taking their toll.
Taking a correct, sober and firm stance, Turkey has actually prevented possibly irreversible damage from misguided Western policies. One needs to see and appreciate this. Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) have been pursuing rational and genuine policies. Otherwise, organizations like NATO would have become irrelevant in the face of so much injustice and so many cases of double standards, and Turkey could have taken another course. Case- and region-based collaborations with Russia and Iran are the political choices of an independent country. It is not Turkey that has drifted off – it is sadly our Western allies.
Let's hope that Operation Olive Branch will help everyone sober up and prepare the ground for a fresh start.