Turkish officials announced Sunday that nine people had been arrested in connection with a double car bombing in Reyhanli, a town near the Syrian border. The attack, which killed at least 46 and injured 100, has increased fears that the conflict in Syria is spreading into neighboring countries.
Damascus denied involvement, but Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that those allegedly responsible for the attacks -- all of them Turkish citizens -- belong to an "old Marxist terrorist organization" with ties to Syrian President Bashar Assad's administration.
The attack occurred amid fresh diplomatic efforts to end the civil war in Syria. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to meet with United States President Barack Obama on Thursday for talks on the topic, and Moscow and Washington recently announced a joint effort to bring representatives both from Assad's government and from the rebels to an international conference.
The West has been reluctant to intervene directly and Turkey has tried to avoid a full-fledged conflict with Assad's regime. Yet within the US, pressure has been mounting for military intervention, with Republican Senator John McCain making a televised appeal for a '' humanitarian buffer zone''.
As Turkey mourned the attack, one of the deadliest in its history, Prime Minister Erdogan cautioned against a rash response, though. "We have to be extremely calm against all kinds of provocations that are trying to pull us into the swamp in Syria," he said in Istanbul.
The situation in Syria is getting worse, with the number of victims horrendously high. But the truth is that the perplexity about what the western states -- with the UN Security Council is as obstructed as it was during the Cold War -- effectively could and should do to stop the war has not at all dissipated. Assad, leaning on his Russian patron, isn't yielding, and jihadists are becoming ever more active among the insurgency. They do not want to build a liberal state in place of Assad's dictatorship, but rather an Islamist "order." In this respect, the western reluctance to supply weapons to the rebels is understandable. Other players, who want the situation to develop according to their own interests, continue to supply the warring parties with weapons. Syria is the scene of a proxy war.
Regardless of who detonated the bombs on Saturday, there's a perfidious strategy here to show the Turkish population that their country is an actor in the battle over the future of Syria -- and it has been for some time. The Turkish government has been pushing for quite a while to provide greater support for the Syrian opposition than before. This week, Erdogan is visiting Washington to demand the creation of a no-fly zone and Ankara is soon likely to arm its allies in Syria -- largely members of the Muslim Brotherhood -- on a far more massive scale than previously.
The bombing attacks also show that no scruples remain in the war over Syria. It is possible that those who have been arrested and presented by the government actually are guilty. But it's just as possible that Islamist opposition fighters laid the bombs.
If the Assad regime turns out to be responsible for the deaths and injuries, the West will no longer be able to avoid an explicit reaction. That makes it all the more imperative to finally reach an agreement with Russia on a common line.
The secular opposition in Turkey is correct in fearing that the fighting won't end if Assad falls and that the Free Syrian Army isn't a truly reliable partner. Erdogan, on the other hand, believes that the greater the strength with which Turkey acts now, the greater the degree to which it will be able to determine who has a say in Syria in the future. But that's the kind of policy that also led US President George W. Bush astray in Iraq.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu reiterated his country's readiness to cooperate with Syrian government officials for a solution, as long as these officials do not have blood on their hands. It is important that these representatives of the Assad regime would be able to find a place in a new Syrian transitional government, Davutoglu said.
This offer won't go down easily, particularly not with the Syrian opposition. But for an international community that, even in the face of almost 100,000 deaths and several million refugees, does not want an intervention and remains deeply divided, that could be a viable option to be explored at the upcoming Syria conference, planned by the US and Russia. A transitional government of rebels and Assad loyalists would be a strange and potentially highly unstable structure. But it would be better than an escalation.
By Guylain Gustave Moke