Turkish Incursion into Northern Syria – A Six Month Outlook  (July 2022)

Turkey announced a planned offensive against SDF positions in northern Syria last month [source]. The potential invasion has generated a newfound cooperation amongst regime and rebel forces. Moreover, Turkey’s announcement encountered opposition from both Iran and Russia. Turkey’s NATO allies similarly condemned any potential military incursion [source]. The incursion will potentially alter the strategic arrangement of the Syrian conflict as it enters its 11th year.

KJ-1: It is almost certain that Turkey will launch a sustained military offensive in Syria in the next 6 months. 

  • Turkey seeks to deepen and extend its 30 km exclusion zone at the expense of Syrian Kurdish forces aligned with the SDF and the United States. Last year’s efforts were put on hold by a Russian-brokered ceasefire [source].  
  • Tourism in Turkey gradually rebounded but has not reached pre-pandemic levels since 2019 [source]. This in turn contributed to a lacklustre pandemic recovery [source]. 
  • Moreover, elections are quickly approaching. Kurdish groups in Syria have long provided a convenient foil for garnering an electoral advantage [source]. 
  • Turkey plays host to 3 million refugees from Syria and Iraq, placing an enormous strain on the social services of the country [source]. Erdogan has promised to not expel the refugees [source]. However, these comments do not reflect the reality of Turkish policy [source]. Consequently, the presence of large refugee populations is driving Turkey to transfer some of that pressure into Syrian territory.

KJ-2: It is highly likely that a Turkish incursion into northern Syria will aggravate Turkish-Iranian and Russo-Turkish relations in the next 6 months.

  • Iranian proxy militias have taken positions around Shiite majority areas north of Aleppo in recent weeks [source]. 
  • In addition, Russia expressed opposition to a Turkish incursion [source]. The war in Ukraine has absorbed much of Russia’s military, financial and diplomatic capital. This has in turn diminished its position in Syria [source].
  • A source from the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army reported that Russian forces have assumed new positions roughly 40 km from the Turkish border [source].

KJ-3: It is likely that a Turkish incursion into northern Syria will result in closer cooperation between SDF and regime forces in the next six months. 

  • The Turkish have already begun targeting SDF positions with long range artillery and with drones [source, source].
  • The Assad regime views any incursion as a direct assault on its sovereignty. The regime will therefore move to oppose the Turkish military operation through force. Iran has begun to coordinate efforts among various armed groups to that effect in recent months [source]
  • Kurdish groups are turning towards the Syrian regime as a potential partner in resisting the Turkish incursion and in fighting Islamist militants [source].
  • Turkey’s incursion may give Islamic State militants the necessary cover to increase their territorial toehold in the next 6 months [source]. Consequently, the threat of a rebounded Islamic State may provide avenues for further cooperation.

Intelligence Cut-Off Date: July 8, 2022

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