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'A limited intervention is conceivable'

The conflict between Syria and Turkey is threatening to escalate. Turkey expert Michael Thumann tells DW that an intervention within a restricted framework is by all means possible.

DW: The tensions between Turkey and Syria are coming to a head following a deadly shelling from Syrian territory on a Turkish border town. In Ankara, the Turkish parliament on Thursday voted in favor of a bill authorizing the military to conduct cross-border operations in Syria. Just how realistic is the possibility of a Turkish military operation against Syria?

Michael Thumann: I think a limited intervention is by all means conceivable, such as the one Turkey in the past applied in Iraq. The only difference is that I wouldn't assume there will be a permanent presence by the Turkish army there [in Syria]. I think it would involve more specifically directed operations and not long-lasting ones. It will by no means involve extensive occupation of the territory.

There is fierce debate in Turkey whether this was a deliberate attack or rather an accident. The Syrian government has expressed its condolences to the families of the Turkish victims and said it would investigate the incident. Would it be in Syria's interest to open a new and difficult front in the middle of a civil war?

Michael Thumann

Michael Thumann is based in Istanbul

This is exceptionally difficult for the Assad regime, which is why I do not think this will develop into a major war between Syria and Turkey. The Syrian government has its hands full and all parts of the army are busy fighting the rebel forces. They are not going to want to face yet another front with Turkey. You also have to ask to what extent the attacks on the village of Akcakale in Turkey definitely came from the Syrian army - or maybe it was the rebels. That has not been conclusively clarified. Both sides could possibly have an interest in this. But the reaction of the Syrian government shows that they will not allow it to escalate further.

The US and NATO have offered Turkey their support. Turkey has also called on the UN Security Council to take the necessary measures. The Security Council is due to meet to discuss and officially condemn Syrian-Turkish tensions - if Russia plays along. Russia's operating space is becoming more rigid, the pressure is growing.

Russia's very restrained reaction, which called on Syria to immediately cease this type of cross-border attacks and pursue the perpetrators so that it could be prevented in the future, is an indication. At the same time, I assume that the Russians will try to prevent a condemnation of Syria in the Security Council. Behind the scenes, though, they'll make it clear that they will not support Syria in an attack on Turkey.

Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has demanded an apology from the government in Damascus. He called on Syria to respect Turkey's territorial integrity. At the same time, he asked his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu to react reasonably. How do you think Germany would react to a military conflict? Do you think it's possible that NATO's Article 5, the collective defense principle, could be invoked?

I think we are far from this. I do not believe that these cross-border attacks will escalate. Should it come to this, then we are looking at an attack on Turkey - and then, of course, this article takes effect. In that case, Germany will have to act accordingly. I greatly hope that the events from the early 1990s will never repeat themselves. At that time, in connection with the Iraq war, there was a major discussion in Germany whether it would have to support Turkey should it be attacked by Saddam Hussein. It was an absurd and undeserving discussion.

Michael Thumann is a German journalist and expert on Turkey and the Middle East. He lives in Istanbul and heads the region's editorial office for the German weekly DIE ZEIT.

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