President Bashar Assad's Arab and Muslims upport is melting fast. debkafile's intelligence sources report that his second most steadfast supporter after Iran, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, has secretly ordered his government officials to dump Ankara's ties with Damascus with all speed.
This change has several consequences which may also indirectly affect Turkey's relations with Israel. For now, Erdogan has given Syrian opposition leaders permission for the first time to hold a meeting in Anatalia from May 31 to June 2 to turn over ways of intensifying the three-month popular uprising to the right pitch for finally toppling Bashar Assad.
After three months of unstinting support for the Assad regime, Turkish government circles seek to shun finding themselves "backing a regime which shoots to kill Muslims in the street." After the number of Syrian deaths rose past 1,100, one high-ranking official commented to debkafile, "Turkey is a Muslim democracy. It must not lend support to dictators who murder their citizens."
This change of policy has taken form in three additional steps:
1. The following message was posted to Damascus on Tuesday, May 24: Turkey is not a member of the European Union and is therefore not bound by its sanctions it has imposed freezing Assad's assets and barring him and his regime heads from travelling. Nonetheless, the Syrian ruler is advised not to try and test its intentions by trying to visit Turkey.
2. Assad's repression of the uprising in the Kurdish regions of northern Syria is causing ferment among the Kurds of southern Turkey. Unless it is stopped forthwith, Ankara will take overt action against the Syrian ruler.
3. Erdogan has discontinued his almost daily phone conversations with Assad. In any case, his advice to the Syrian ruler on how to overcome the uprising against him was never heeded.
Our sources report that he also ordered the Hakan Fidan, chief of Turkish MIT intelligence service, to stop traveling to Damascus with updates on Syrian opposition activities. Assad has thus lost his key source of information about what the opposition is up to.
As a by-product of this radical policy change in Ankara, the Turkish Prime Minister is reported by our sources to have reconsidered the dispatch from Turkish ports of a large anti-Israel flotilla for breaking the Gaza blockade. It was scheduled for the last week of June.
Fifteen vessels carrying 1,500 activists from several countries were due to take part, led by the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish vessel aboard which nine people were killed in a violent clash with Israeli commandos a year ago. Erdogan decided to withdraw Turkish participation lest Syria exploit another possible Israel-Turkish clash at sea to launch an attack on Israel's northern border as a show of Syrian-Turkish solidarity.
These days, Ankara is working hard to avoid any suggestion of solidarity with Syria.