As Turkish troops advance against Kurdish fighters in Syria, the world has reacted with total condemnation. Gulf countries, with the exception of Qatar, have resoundingly blasted the move as a “dangerous development and a blatant and unacceptable aggression against the sovereignty of a brotherly Arab state in contravention of the rules of international law”.
Syria has been an open battlefield for nearly a decade now due to its messy and prolonged civil war. Many international and regional players have entered the battlefield all vying for their own narrow interests there.
Iranian intervention has been widely condemned by GCC states as well. The Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah has been fighting to prop up the government of Bashar Al Assad now since 2012. Russia has troops on the ground as well, to help the Syrian government defeat opposition rebel groups fighting against the regime. The US has also led an international coalition to fight against Daesh in Syria and Iraq.
Finally, Turkey has also been involved, but mainly because of its opposition to a bid for Kurdish autonomy in the north along its border.
Regardless of the reason, Arab states are wary of yet another encroachment of Arab territory by a non-Arab force, whether it be the Iranians or the Turks.
Let us not forget that much of the Arab world was under Ottoman rule for around 400 years. The Arabs have not forgotten the Ottoman occupation.
The UAE’s statement of condemnation reiterated its firm stance and rejection of all that affects the sovereignty of Arab national security. It also warned of dire consequences of this aggression on the unity and territorial integrity of Syria.
While the US, under President Donald Trump, is pulling troops out of Syria but it also must make sure that this move does not create a vacuum where other actors can step in and flex their muscles. Turkey claims it wants to create a “safe zone” to push Kurdish fighters away from its border, Arabs fear that it is a power play by the Turks to usurp Arab land.
It also sets a very dangerous precedent where any state could invade another state on the pretext of self-defence or national interest.
The invasion of Kuwait by Iraq under Saddam Hussain in 1990 is also fresh in the memories of Gulf states who fear a repeat of that scenario by powerful regional actors. Any incursion into sovereign territory whether it comes from Turks, Iranians or other Arab states should be unequivocally condemned and international pressure must be applied to deter other states from following suit.