The military operation initiated by Turkey at the beginning of the week under the code name “olive branch” is suitable for several players in the Syrian arena and has the potential to embarrass them at the same time. The biggest losers remain the Kurds, who failed to secure a domestic and international ally to protect them and stand by their goal, despite (and partly also because of) offering themselves as suitable allies of the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
What is Damascus’s position towards the “Olive Branch”?
The Damascus government maybe the biggest winner in the Turkish Operation “Olive Branch” for various reasons. It is clear that Ankara is extending the “olive branch” to Damascus in an effort to inject warmth into their longtime turbulent relationship. The Turkish-Syrian security contacts began a while ago and with them Turkish officials released overt statements saying that “the Syrian government does not pose a threat to Turkey”. This positive Turkish approach materialized despite occasional sporadic aggressive statements by the Turkish President RecepTayyip Erdogan towards his Syrian counterpart President Bashar al-Assad. Erdogan needs to criticize Assad to satisfy his Middle Eastern allies and also his Syrian allies in the Syrian opposition and al-Qaeda who are still fighting under Ankara’s banner in Syria on various fronts.
As for Damascus, the Syrian government has asked the Kurds in Afrin to hand over the control of the security and the financial administration to Syrian representatives and officials so the Turkish attack on the entire province and the nearby cities under Kurdish control can be halted.
The Kurdish attitude towards other Syrians has been alarming to Damascus since no Syrian citizen was allowed access to Afrin without a permit from the “Kurdish Protection Units”. The Kurdish administration is levying taxes, collecting money from selling oil and crops, and buying land from Arab Syrians. The Kurds are sitting on wealth that is worth several billion dollars, unwilling to deliver it to the Syrian government.
During the negotiations with Damascus, the Kurdish officials declared their unwillingness to hand over the security and financial control despite the central government’s willingness to send 5,000 Syrian soldiers and officers to Afrin and deploy the units along the border with Turkey, which in turn agreed with Russia to stop its menace and bide by a Damascus-Afrin deal if and when it is reached. The Kurds in Afrin have been unwilling to give up their influence over the city and in fact demanded a small unit of the Syrian police, enough to convince Turkey of the presence of the Syrian army.
Damascus refused the Kurdish maneuver. Its stand was clear: either restore the state control over all Syrian territory or allow the Kurds to face the consequence of their decisions. The central government does not conceal its displeasure with the Turkish military operation because it would weaken the position of the United States, which is presented today as the country reneging on its allies and putting its interests above friendship. The distance the US is taking from events in Afrin is significant.
The US have used the Kurds in Syria to fight ISIS and consolidate Washington’s position and occupation over a part of Syria. The Kurds agreed to fight ISIS in exchange for the US support of a Kurdish state.