Turkey has been the most significant outside actor in the one-year-old conflict in Syria, hosting thousands of refugees and providing support to the rebels. But thus far it has not involved itself more directly in the uprising, biding its time as the situation develops.Recent remarks by Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan suggest that this waiting game may be coming to an end. The Jerusalem Post reports that Erdogan told a group of refugees while touring a refugee camp along the Syrian border that the Assad regime may be nearing collapse:
“Bashar is losing blood every day,” Erdogan told the crowd of about 1,500 people less than a kilometer from the border.“Your victory is not far. We have just one issue: to stop the bloodshed and tears and for the Syrian people’s demands to be met,” he said.
Since the beginning of the conflict, Via Meadia has contended that outside support would be the key factor in whether Assad survives. After nearly 16 months of fighting, neither side has been able to establish a clear upper hand (although recent signs suggest that Assad may be weakening). Assad can’t crush the rebellion and without help the rebels can’t drive Assad out of power. Outside support for the rebels can tip the balance, though it is not clear what will come next.Erdogan’s statements, while less than a promise for further Turkish support, do suggest that the Turks are edging toward a more activist policy. This could be a game changer.Erdogan’s newfound enthusiasm is easy to understand. Many in Turkey, the AK Party very much included, look back fondly at the glory days when the Ottoman Sultan was the Caliph of Islam and much of the Middle East was at least technically ruled from Istanbul. Some Turkish policymakers today dream of a return of Turkish influence in the Arab world at least in the same league with that of the Ottoman era. Playing the lead role in restoring civil order while upholding religious orthodoxy in a troubled Arab neighbor, just as their predecessors did in the Ottoman days, would be a heady experience for any Turkish leader. Erdogan may find this possibility too tempting to resist.