Be wary of playing Turkey’s great game

Con Coughlin – Telegraph.co.uk Oct 5, 2012

Syria might be getting all the blame for firing the first shot in the sudden eruption of hostilities on the Turko-Syrian border, but Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, can hardly claim to be an innocent party when it comes to stoking the fires of a conflict that retains the potential to ignite a regional conflagration.

For more than a year now Turkey has been taking a lead role in the campaign to overthrow the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Working closely with a number of Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, that are also committed to ridding Damascus of Assad’s Alawite clique, the Turks have been carefully co-ordinating international support for Syria’s rebel forces. There are even reports that the Turks have established a shared command centre in southern Turkey which is supervising the transfer of arms, supplies and volunteers across the Syrian border to the rebels. In short, the Turks are doing everything in their power to achieve regime change in Damascus, a position that is not lost on Mr Assad.

Whether forces loyal to the regime were responsible for firing the mortar round that killed five civilians – including three children – in a Turkish border village this week is unclear. If Syrian rebels were active on the Turkish side of the border, and the Turkish authorities were doing nothing to apprehend them, then Assad loyalists might have felt within their rights to attack them. The Syrian government, for what it’s worth, denies any involvement and says it is investigating the incident.

Alternatively, amid the fog of war, there is always the possibility that Syrian rebels – or those sympathetic to their cause – fired the round into Turkey as a deliberate attempt to provoke the country and its allies into retaliating. To this day there are still some who believe the Bosnian government, in a similar cynical exercise, shelled its own citizens at a market in Sarajevo at the height of the civil war in 1995 to compel the West to intervene against the Serbs.

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