Also see: Turkish Actions To Trigger NATO Confrontation With Syria?
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Syria has accused Turkey of arming rebels that have purportedly attacked Syrian military forces:
Syrian officials said a rebel force of up to 500 fighters attacked a Syrian Army position on June 4 in northern Syria. They said the target, a garrison of Military Intelligence, was captured in a 36-hour assault in which 72 soldiers were killed in Jisr Al Shoughour, near the border with Turkey.
"We found that the criminals [rebel fighters] were using weapons from Turkey, and this is very worrisome," an official said.
Meanwhile, Turkey has reportedly put its forces that border Syria on alert:
Turkey has put its armed forces deployed on the border with Syria in a state of alert since Thursday evening, following reports on the arrival of a number of Syrian military defectors from the into the territory of Turkey. A Turkish source familiar with situation said Syrian forces backed by tanks were operating close to the Turkish border. They have launched combing operations just 500 meters from the Turkish border. The operations are believed to be carried out in order to locate Syrians fleeing toward Turkey.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry has expressed its concern to the Syrian authorities regarding the approach of Syrian military forces to the Syrian Turkish border, warning of the seriousness of this matter.
There are long-standing tensions between Turkey and Syria that could suddenly explode in war:
As Turkey and Syria face off, informed opinion holds that the Turks will not go beyond "a few surgical strikes." But the Middle East is a supremely volatile region, where conflicts tend to escalate beyond expectations. In 1967, the Six-Day War between Arab nations and Israel seemed to come out of nowhere; historians still puzzle over its origins. The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan took everyone by surprise, as did the Iraqi invasions of Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990. The Lebanese and Sudanese civil wars started on a dime. It therefore behooves us....to take the flare-up between Turkey and Syria seriously.
The origins of the conflict lie in several Syrian resentments and ambitions toward Turkey. In 1939, on the eve of World War II, the French imperial power in Damascus handed over a province of Syria to the Turks, something still not accepted by Syrians. In fact, daily television broadcasts in Syria of weather maps show Turkey's Hatay Province as part of Syria.
Then there is the ever-sensitive issue of water. Turkey and Syria signed an agreement in 1987 whereby the Syrians were assured a minimum allotment of water from the Euphrates River flowing out of Turkey. Although the Turks have lived up to their side of the bargain, Syrian President Hafez Assad has decided his country deserves more.
Finally, Damascus worries about Turkey's foreign links. In the old days, it was the membership in NATO. Now, flourishing military, commercial and cultural ties between Turkey and Israel perturb the Syrians even more. Such grievances prompted the Assad regime, starting in the mid-1980s, to sponsor a whole range of terrorist groups against Turkey, one of which remains very much in business. Known by its initials PKK, the Kurdistan Workers' Party has killed some 30,000 Turks in the pursuit of a breakaway Kurdish state and represents the number one problem in Turkey today.
In the face of the growing humanitarian crisis on the Turkish-Syrian border caused by the political uprising in Syria, there are signs Turkey may use force to establish a buffer zone inside Syria for refugees:
Government sources told a leading Turkish newspaper that soldiers could be sent in to Syria to set up a "safe haven" under plans being considered should the flood of those fleeing the fighting worsened.
"We would close the border but we cannot turn our back," a Turkish official told the newspaper, Hurriyet. "If chaos starts, then we will have to form a security zone or a buffer zone inside Syrian territory."
The suggestion, which would be a marked escalation of the crisis and seriously alarm Damascus, came as Turkey faced pressure to take tougher action over the crisis in a neighbour until recently seen as an ally.
Now here's the problem. Turkey is a member of NATO whereas Syria is strongly backed by Russia. Should war erupt between Turkey and Syria, then there's the potential for direct conflict between NATO and Russia. I have long thought that Georgia might be used by Moscow to trigger such an East-West confrontation, but now it looks like Syria and Turkey could be the chess pieces in the global game of Real Politik to be exploited.
That Israel could be drawn quickly into the fray of any such East-West conflict seems rather obvious, particularly given that regional players like Iran and Hezbollah would seemingly do everything possible to keep the Bashar Assad regime in power in Syria.
Thus, seemingly out of nowhere the Middle East could ignite a global conflict, something that should not come as a complete surprise given the insights of this blog and the fact that today the DJIA closed below 12K and the NYSE Composite closed below 8K: