Turkish forces based in Syria shelled Syrian rebel positions for the first time in the over two year-long conflict. This comes as a surprise to the international community as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been steadfast in his support of the Syrian opposition. Especially because Turkey kept its borders open with Syria for the purpose of providing rebel fighters with refuge and numerous resources, in addition to ordering attacks on Mr. Assad’s forces.
A change in strategy reflects the pattern of other states that initially backed rebel forces, but became unwilling to help them after it was revealed that Islamist fundamentalists had emerged as dominating the Syrian opposition. Prime Minister Erdogan was pressed to alter his initial decision (of supporting the rebels) because security along the border is becoming a serious issue; the violence has become critical enough that NATO has implanted a protective missile battery along the border on Turkey’s behalf. The country’s involvement in the conflict is becoming deeply unpopular with the Turkish public, especially because of the increase in violence and rising ethnic tensions on the border.
Despite the fact that Turkey felt stumped by the United States’ decision to shift from immediate military action to diplomacy (with the implementation of the Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons), it will likely continue responding to the conflict with military measures. The sectarian violence between Alawites and Sunnis (the former supporting President Assad and the latter supporting the opposition) in the Turkish province of Hatay has become too pressing to ignore and will need a forceful response. Additionally, an increase in demonstrations by Kurdish independence groups in Syrian enclaves that border Turkey has caught the attention of Turkish authorities. Both these events have led to vigorous counter-action, including the construction of a 2.5 kilometer-long wall along the border, and we can expect more military measures to ensure a semblance of peace and security.