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Turkey's bold about-face on Syria

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And Turkey’s bellicosity toward former friend Israel stood in stark contrast to its silence with Iran and Syria as they buried their citizens’ demands for democracy.

But Ankara’s 180-degree turn with Damascus marks a decisive break from its “zero problems” policy.

In 2002, Turkey had invested more diplomatically and economically in Syria than in any of its neighbors. This transformed its relationship from one of military confrontation rooted in cold-war geopolitics and Syria’s support for separatist Kurdish terrorists in Turkey, to one of economic cooperation. Turkey's ties to Syria became a model for rapprochement that Ankara then applied to other problematic neighbors such as Greece and Iraq.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is known for valuing loyalty. True to his word, he stuck by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad longer than any other Western friend – to the point of risking his own credibility in the transatlantic community. Following a similar pattern in Libya, he tried to play the role of mediator and empathetic friend until it became painfully clear that Damascus was no longer listening.

Now Turkey has advanced decisively beyond private criticism by leading the push for international action and sanctions against Damascus. Ankara is publicly hosting Syrian opposition leaders along with insurgents who have based themselves within Turkey’s borders, and has reportedly been secretly arming the same forces. It’s preparing unilateral sanctions that go far beyond what any Western power has thus far attempted. 

The breakdown in Syrian relations is having a precipitously negative affect on Turkey’s ties with neighbor Iran, its chief rival – but also important economic partner – for influence in the region. Add to that Turkey’s decision to host NATO radar installations aimed at Iran, and Turkey’s interests are now much more  convergent with the West.

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