War between US and Turkey in Syria?

In a previous op-ed, I poked fun at the bumbling policy of the US in Syria.  Unfortunately, laughing stops when the shooting starts.  Also, very unfortunately, America’s top amateur, Donald Trump may have really stepped in it with Turkey.  In a phone call with President Erdogan, Trump raised concerns that Ankara’s operations in Syria, could result in a direct clash between the two NATO countries.

What?  Mr. Trump, if I could address you personally, perhaps they didn’t brief you sufficiently about the Turks.  These guys are not exactly pushovers.  In a phone call to Erdogan, the White House said that the president urged Turkey to exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces.”Additionally, the Donald urged Erdogan to deescalate and “limit its military actions” in to “avoid civilian casualties and avoid increases the number of displaced persons and refugees.”  According to Secretary of State Mattis, theTurkish actions in Syria distract from US efforts to defeat ISIS.

So, is “pretty please” working Mr. President?  The US has 2,000 troops and advisors in Manbij, Syria.  Here is the essence of the problem:  despite US calls to “deescalate” military involvement in Syria, Erdogan ordered an extension of the Turkish operation from the Afrin region to Manbij.  Can you say “speed bump?”  It looks like throwing the Kurds in Manbij under the bus is not enough to pull the Trump bacon out of the fire.

The rift between the NATO allies has been driven by the fact the US continues to support the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).  Turkey says they are linked to the Kurdish PKK.  The Turks have waged war against the PKK for decades and consider it a terrorist organization.  The Olive Branch’ operation was launched last week in order to prevent Kurdish “terrorists” from gaining autonomy amid due to reports the US-led coalition was planning to create a new Kurdish-dominated Border Security Force (BSF) in Syria.

Over Saturday, Erdogan also said that he was ready to risk a confrontation with the US over Manbij.  He also has an election in 2019, something any US politician would understand.  The crisis has given him great support with all of the major political parties in Turkey.  Additionally, he has been able to silence whatever opposition is left after the failed 2016 coup attempt.

Certainly, I have no crystal ball.  God did not talk to me over Shabbat as to whether or not war is going to happen between the US and Turkey.  However, I think Israel has some stark choices.  We are so worried about Iran (justifiably so).  They, Hizbollah, and hired Shiite mercenaries are just a few miles from our border in Lebanon.  However, Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies are on the march in Syria.

Unlike Iran, Turkey has not been bled white on the killing fields of Syria.  Erdogan leads a country that is much more prosperous (14th largest economy in the world) and a united government.  The Iranian ayatollahs are losing touch with a younger generation that is growing more tired of the fundamentalist approach to Shiite Islam and dying in foreign fields.

Further, if the conflict stays at either a proxy level or escalates to a shootout with the US, what will Trump demand of Israel?  Do we want to take on Turkey and possibly Russia?  Maybe we should continue talking to the Russians as Netanyahu did in 2015 to desescalate and coordinate.  Certainly, we must defend our borders, but we are under no obligation to jump under the bus with the Kurds.

About the Author
Akiva ben Avraham is a former community college adjunct, US Army intelligence analyst and officer, and a caregiver.