Tabnak - Since the start of Turkey’s direct military intervention in Syria in August last year, there have been many discussions about Ankara’s ultimate goal and the extent to which it wants to expand its operation and military presence inside Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s latest remarks on the situation in Syria, has many things to say about this issue.
At a press conference in Istanbul yesterday, Erdogan declared that the ultimate goal of Turkish military operation in Syria is not just to take the control of "Al-Bab” – a strategic town in Aleppo province occupied by ISIS – but it also aims at defeating the ISIS terrorists throughout the whole region, including Raqqa, the so-called capital of ISIS’ self-declared Caliphate.
However, maybe a more important part of his remarks was where he once again referred to the issue of establishing a safe zone in Syria. "Our goal is to create a 4-5 thousand km safe zone free from the terrorists in Syria” he said, adding that: "By creating such a safe zone, we could both stop the emigration and asylum of the inhabitants and also provide a residential area for them. Thereby, the Syrians in our camps could also go back to their country”.
If we consider the issue in a broader perspective and in relation to some other recent interactions involving Turkey, it could be said that Ankara is seriously pursuing its plan to create a somehow "zone of influence” for itself inside Syria.
First of all, it is worth saying that Erdogan’s recent remarks were just at the eve of his four-day trip to some Arab countries of the Persian Gulf. In this trip, the Turkish President visits Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, all of which are more or less aligned with Turkey in their objection to the Syrian President Bashar Assad and the necessity of creating a safe zone inside Syria as a first step toward restricting the power and maneuvering space of the Syrian Army.
At the same time, the new head of US intelligence (CIA) Mike Pompeo visited Ankara and Riyadh on his first trip abroad to talk about a range of bilateral and regional issues, among which the Syrian issue is one of the most important topics.
The importance of Pompeo’s visit at the current stage, relates to the positions taken by the new US President Donald Trump on the Syrian issue. Apart from publicly talking about the need to create a safe zone in Syria, in a recent decree Trump ordered respective governmental bodies to conduct a feasibility study and propose options on how to create such a zone.
So, it seems that Pompeo’s recent trip to Turkey and Saudi Arabia as the two main supporters of such an idea inside the region was primarily aimed at extracting the available means to reach that goal and also to assess the readiness of the US regional allies to cooperate.
In this context, it seems that Erdogan’s recent remarks were a clear message to the US administration, saying that as far as Ankara is concerned, it is ready to direct its Syrian military operation into creating a safe zone. However, the Turkish President is well aware that, except Washington decides to directly involve, such a plan goes nowhere. At the same time, given Russia’s declared objection to any plan containing a safe zone or a "no-flight zone” inside Syria, we are yet to see how Moscow will react to such a possible US-Turkey collaboration.