Saudi or Turkish Invasion of Syria Could Ruin Geneva Peace Talks

Military operations by either Turkey or Saudi Arabia in Syria would be interpreted by Iran and Russia, the dominant actors in the Syrian scene, as an act of enmity and war.

Saudi Arabia said last week that it was ready to send troops to Syria if the United States did so. Meanwhile, Russian Defense Ministry said it had grounds to believe that Turkey was preparing an invasion of Syria, too. In an interview with, Kayhan Barzegar, director of the Tehran-based Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies, shared his view of what ramifications such military operations could have.

“First of all, there is still serious doubt about the legitimacy and actuality of such operations,” Barzegar said. “As far as legitimacy is concerned, the Syrian government has not invited these countries, unlike Iran and Russia, to intervene in Syria. The second issue is which party they are going to fight for. Right now, the issue of battling terrorist groups is becoming a priority at the international level. It is hard therefore to identify the moderate or extremist terrorist oppositions. This situation will put political pressures on Turkey and Saudi Arabia's Western allies.”

The Turkish public is critical and uncertain of the success and necessity of the country’s direct military involvement in the Syrian conflict. Therefore, the Turkish government will hesitate to go deep in the military operation in Syria, the scholar said. “As to the Saudi presence, the issue is more related to the capabilities of the Saudi troops and the precarious consequences that such operations could bring for the country's regional status and domestic politics,” he added.

However, if realized,  such operations by either Turkey or Saudi Arabia would be interpreted by Iran and Russia, the dominant actors in the Syrian scene, as an act of enmity and war, consequently bringing the high risk of direct confrontation between Iran and Russia on the one side and Turkey and Saudi Arabia on the other, Barzegar said. “This will inevitability lead the Western countries, especially the United States, to take side of its regional allies. The result would be an unwanted war of a different nature, because Iran and Russia at this level cannot afford any critical change in the field equations in Syria,” he pointed out.

“At the same time, and at the domestic level, such operation would increase the existing sectarian conflict especially in the northern part between the Syrian Kurds and other violent Sunni groups and this will put Syria on the verge of real disintegration,” Barzegar stressed.

When asked how a supposed military operation could impact the Geneva peace talks, Barzegar said it would deal them a heavy blow. “Right now there is a common interest among all the regional and trans-regional actors in Syria on finding a political solution and establishing stability. This is mostly related to the diverse domestic dynamic of the Syrian politics. To this end, there is currently cooperation, even minimal, between the foreign stakeholders in the Geneva peace talks. Yet, if the conflict opens a new phase engaging foreign powers directly on the field, with all the possible accidental incidents they might bring, then this itself would end the talks process,” he elaborated.

At the same time, the new situation could discourage either side of the conflict from continuing the talks process, as they might consider that the field situation is turning to their favour. “The result would be further conflict on the ground,” the scholar concluded.
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