It tends to be forgotten, but in the fall of 1998 Turkey and Syria almost went to war. The crisis started when Gen. Atilla Ates, commander of the Turkish land forces, spoke near the Syrian border on Sept. 16. Ates, called on Damascus to expel Abdullah Ocalan and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the militant group that had been fighting the Turkish government since 1984. The drums of war echoed throughout the Middle East as Turkish tanks seemed poised to roll into Syria. Unwilling to go to war, the government of Hafez al-Assad, father of the current Syrian president, complied with Ankara’s demand and expelled Ocalan. Turkey would capture its public enemy number one in February 1999, five months after Ates’ speech.
Today, Ankara’s enthusiasm for possible US airstrikes against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad makes one realize how Turkey’s Syrian odyssey has come full circle since that fateful fall of 1998.