Turkey Is Not Invading Syria

Today's Zaman, a large and respected English-language daily newspaper based in Turkey, made a big splash today with a story suggesting that that Turkish government had informed Western diplomats it was considering invading Syria to topple President Bashar al-Assad. "Report: Turkey tells West it might launch offensive against Syria," reads the headline. The article cites a Kuwaiti newspaper, As-Seyassah, which in turn cites an anonymous British diplomat.

It's the kind of story that's outrageous enough to attract suspicion, but still gets passed around both because it has aspects of plausibility and because it tells people something they want to hear.

Syria's awful violence against its citizens has no obvious Western solutions. Assad's regime is already heavily sanctioned, and Western governments have few diplomatic levers to influence his behavior. Regardless of whether a Libya-style intervention would be a good idea, the North African conflict has become so protracted and expensive that NATO is extremely unlikely to want to repeat in Syria. The idea that Turkey might simply take care of the Syria problem itself, however unlikely and however unwise, could tempt Western readers, even normally skeptical analysts and journalists, into letting themselves believe it.

The fighting in Syria has indeed spread into nearby Turkey, where thousands of refugees have fled, creating an expensive and complicated humanitarian and diplomatic problem for a country that already has plenty of diplomatic problems. Though the countries are allies, their relationship was very tense not so long ago, and Assad's isolationism, aggressive foreign policy, and brutal domestic leadership have made it difficult for Turkey to remain close at a time when it is also trying to join the European Union. So while the prospect of Turkey invading Syria is extremely unlikely, if you wanted to believe it, you could find justification.

Alas, the story appears to be false. When I expressed incredulity at the likelihood of Turkey invading its neighbor, Today's Zaman news editor Mahir Zeynalov responded, "I think the Kuwaiti daily misquoted the diplomat." As for the prospect of Turkey launching an entire war with so little warning, Zeynalov pointed out that the country has not even suggested as much to Syria, which it surely would if invasion were a real possibility. "No need to exaggerate, Turkey did not even warn Syria of deploying troops." He added of the newspaper's own sourcing for the story that no government source "was used while writing this report."