A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, June 29, 2012

Rumors of War, Stirrings of Diplomacy: Is the Noose Tightening on Syria?

Turkey has been slowly but surely escalating both its rhetoric and its military position all week in the wake of the downing of the Turkish F-4 and the subsequent NATO meeting. Turkish troops and anti-aircraft batteries have moved into the Hatay region and Turkey has openly said that any Syrian troops approaching the border would be considered an act of aggression. If it seems like Turkey is almost spoiling for a fight, I suspect that may be a fair reading: and there are unconfirmed reports that Turkey wants NATO to enforce a no-fly zone inside Syria, to protect refugees along the Turkish border.

Harder to confirm were reports yesterday that Saudi Arabia has been mobilizing troops and conducting troop movements. The Saudis are famously both exceptionally cautious and terribly secretive; other than their intervention in Bahrain they are not known for adventures outside their own borders. Many of these rumors are appearing in dubious places known for sensational reporting, but they are more than one or two isolated rumors.

All these gestures and rumors may be posturing. Secretary Clinton is in Russia today, amid talk that Russia might finally be trying to find a formula that gets rid of Asad but retains Russian interests in Syria,  and tomorrow there is an international meeting in Geneva called by UN envoy Kofi Annan to try to find a solution. Threats may simply be a form of diplomatic pressure here, or a reminder of the alternative if diplomacy fails.

We have gone in a short while from a semantic debate over whether Syria was in a civil war yet to a point where Asad himself says Syria is in an all-out war, and the internationalization of that war seems less remote than it did a week ago.

It's true that at first,Turkey didn't seem very belligerent over the downed plane. (Nor, in 1914, did Austria-Hungary seem all that upset about one assassinated Archduke. But then it found it a useful provocation.) But that has changed.

Whether the saber-rattling is real or posturing, whether the diplomatic maneuverings have any chance of success, I would not be resting easily if I were Bashar al-Asad. Things seem to be escalating towards — something.

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