The volatile situation in Syria took a dangerous turn over the weekend, as Turkey began shelling Kurdish YPG militia forces in Syria, the same militia America has been relying upon as frontline ground forces against the Islamic State. Turkey is also a U.S. ally and a member of NATO.
Turkish shelling was reported on both Saturday and Sunday, targeting areas north of the besieged city of Aleppo, where Kurdish fighters have seized ground from other insurgent forces. Reuters reports the Turks are demanding Kurdish forces withdraw from those areas.
Turkey has been alarmed by the expansion of Kurdish sway in northern Syria since the start of the conflict in 2011. The YPG controls nearly all of Syria’s northern frontier with Turkey, and has been a close ally of the United States in the campaign against Islamic State in Syria.
The outlet continues, “But Ankara views the group as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade-old insurgency for autonomy in southeast Turkey.”
A spokesman for the Kurdish-backed Syria Democratic Forces alliance warned Turkey that “if it has goals in our dear nation, we will defend our land and our people, and view it as a hostile party.”
The BBC reports France pleading with Turkey to end its attack on Kurdish fighters in Syria and asking all parties in Syria to agree with the “cessation of hostilities” agreement reached in Munich this week. So far, there has been scant evidence of intent by the Syrian regime or its Russian and Iranian patrons to cease hostilities.
The Syrian government also denounced the Turkish bombardment, describing it as an “outrageous violation of international law.” There are reports that fire was exchanged between Turkish and Syrian government forces over the weekend, in addition to the Turkish shelling of Kurdish positions.
The BBC also reports that Saudi Arabian warplanes are now stationed at the Incirlik airbase in Turkey, from which the United States has been carrying out strikes against ISIS.
The Saudi deployment fueled speculation about a joint Turkish-Saudi ground incursion into Syria over the weekend. CBS News reports Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu explicitly stated on Saturday that his country and Saudi Arabia may soon begin ground operations against the Islamic State.
This drew a warning from Iran, which already has ground forces engaged in defeating the Syrian rebellion and securing the regime of dictator Bashar Assad. “We definitely won’t let the situation in Syria to go forward the way rebel countries want. … We will take necessary actions in due time,” said Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri in an Iranian television interview, as transcribed by The Times of Israel.
Jazayeri left no doubt about what he meant by “rebel countries” when he added, “The terrorists fighting in Syria today are forces of Saudi Arabia or the Americans or even reactionary forces in the region.”
He went on to accuse Turkey and other “reactionary Arab countries” of supporting “terrorist” forces in Syria, taunting the Saudis in particular: “Saudi Arabia has used everything at its disposal in the Syrian front and so far they have failed, not only in Syria but also in Yemen.”
Tensions are already running high between Iran and Saudi Arabia, making the possibility of a clash between their ground forces in Syria alarming. The odds of an escalating conflict between Turkey and Russia – already tense after Russian incursions into Turkish airspace and Turkey’s destruction of a Russian warplane – are also high.