Analysis: hundreds of people have been killed and tens of thousands forced to flee their homes after attacks by Turkish forces on northern Syria

War has returned to Syria after a brief lull. This time, we see Turkey, along with its proxies, invading parts of northern Syria to uproot the Syrian Kurdish militia, YPG, who have enjoyed US support in their fight against ISIS. So what are the implications of this incursion for all involved in the eight-year-long Syrian conflict?

Turkey 

Pros: The incursion aims to consolidate Ankara's position at the Astana negotiation table. Turkey claims its move will help resettle millions of Syrian refugees in the newly captured towns and cities of northern Syria. The incursion will potentially alter northern Syria’s demographic makeup by displacing Kurds, Assyrians, and other minorities and replacing them with Arabs. Turkish president Recep Erdoğan also aims to stem dissent in the ruling AK Party ranks while also rallying opposition behind him.

From RTÉ Six One News, RTÉ Deputy Foreign Editor Colm Ó Mongáin on the background to the current attacks

Cons: Deaths of Turkish soldiers can easily lead to a national backlash against Erdogan. After being abandoned by the United States, YPG might consider embracing the Syrian regime – chief enemy of Erdogan – and give itself a new lease of life. A prolonged Turkish offensive can make partners Russia and Iran uneasy and reconsider their ties with Ankara. Regional rivals of Turkey such as the UAE, Egypt and possibly Saudi Arabia may realign with Damascus in order to counter growing Turkish influence.

YPG

Pros: The Kurdish militia is riding on a wave of huge international sympathy and seeks military and financial backing from its key allies, though it cannot count on the US anymore despite fighting and defeating ISIS with vital US-led coalition support. YPG’s trump card is its control over thousands of suspected ISIS prisoners, which it has already warned about in recent days. It may regroup as a guerrilla force, like its ideological mentor PKK, and wage hit-and-run attacks on Turkey and its proxies as it has been doing in the occupied Kurdish-majority enclave of Afrin.

From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Channel 4 News International Editor Lindsey Hilsum reports from northern Syria on the situaition there as thousands of Kurds flee Turkish attacks

Cons: The Turkish incursion brings an end to the Rojava autonomy project. YPG risks reduction of its status as a "dumped US proxy" from that of being of a key player in a matter of weeks if it loses control over vast resource-rich lands in eastern Syria as well as important Kurdish-majority towns and cities in northern Syria. The attack also ends any possibility of YPG’s role in future Syria peace negotiations.

United States

Pros: Donald Trump intends to fulfil his key election promise to bring troops back home in a bid to boost his popularity. The move is part of the US president’s aims to overhaul American foreign and defence policy with regard to NATO and the Middle East. It will also open the door for Turkey to get back into F-35 project after getting kicked out for buying Russia-made S-400 air-defence system.

Cons: A reduction of influence on Syrian land and a major dent to its reputation as a trustworthy global power, while Russia consolidates its position as regional power broker. It may also lead to the possible resurgence of ISIS.

From RTÉ Radio 1's Today With Sean O'Rourke Show, Rosemary Hollis, Professor of Middle East Policy Studies at City University of London, on how Donald Trump has upended US policy in Syria

Russia 

Pros: Moscow’s ties with Ankara and YPG will increase its influence in the region and bolster its position at the Astana peace process. Russia will capitalise on any Turkish misadventures and use it as bargaining chip to rein in Ankara’s ambitions. It will also attempt to prise Syrian Kurds from US fold and align them with the Syrian regime. Will initiate offensive in Idlib against Al Qaeda-led and Turkish-backed groups with full force.

Cons: It weakens the position of its key ally, namely Syrian president Bashar Al Assad’s government and further complicates the Russia-led Astana peace process. Jihadists rehabilitated under Turkish-backed "Free Syrian Army" banner are also a major concern for Moscow.

Syria

Pros: The collapse of YPG will entice Damascus to capture key Syrian cities like Raqqah, Manbij, Hasakah, Qamishli, Tabaqa and Shaddadi, along with the vast oil and gas fields in eastern Syria. It also bolsters Damascus’ position of no comprise over the unity of Syria. The regime also emerges as the only refuge for Syrian Kurds.

From RTÉ Prime Time Explained, Colm Ó Mongáin and RTÉ Brainstorm contributor Moign Khawaja on the war in Syria

Cons: More sovereign territory will go under foreign control. Sworn enemies like FSA and former jihadis will become more powerful under Turkish patronage, while the emergence of parallel structures undermine governance and heightens the possibility of an Iskendrun-like scenario. Refugees streaming into government-controlled towns and cities such as Aleppo will put more strain on the Syrian economy which is already under crippling US sanctions.

Free Syrian Army and other Turkish proxies 

Pros: The groups get a new lease of life under Turkish tutelage and seize control of more Arab-dominated areas, unlike Afrin in the past which is Kurdish-dominated. It bolsters their position at Astana talks and future Syria peace settlement. Islamism will be reinforced.

Cons: The scramble for power can lead to further infighting between different groups within the FSA umbrella. More dependence on Turkey will weaken their Syrian credentials and lead to alienation among populace.

From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Jasper Mortimer, freelance journalist in Ankara, describes the situation in Kurdish-controlled north eastern Syria after the Turkish military offensive

Iran

Pros: A diminishing US role is good news for Tehran as it shifts global spotlight on Turkey instead. Might attempt to rally Gulf Arab powers behind Damascus in order to counter Ankara, which supports their arch-rivals, Muslim Brotherhood.

Cons: Turkish expansionist plans can frustrate Tehran’s pledge to establish so-called land bridge to the Mediterranean Sea. Turkey’s Islamist proxies may undermine Iranian interests by targeting Shias and Alewis as well as the Syrian regime and its allies.

READ: What are 'safe zones' and how do they work?

Gulf States and Egypt

Pros: The latest incursion helps them undermine Turkey at the international level and shift focus from the disastrous war in Yemen and recent upheaval in Egypt. It also presents an opportunity to aid the Syrian Kurds in their war against Turkey.

Cons: Turkish expansion in Arab lands should ring alarm bells. Any rehabilitation of Syrian Islamists is a cause of concern especially for the UAE. Reduction of the US military presence is bad news for Gulf Arabs and their allies. 


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ