The creation of a safe zone within the Syrian borders is in fact the most appealing option among the probable military measures. However, the legitimacy of this measure is controversial. Such a measure would mean violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of another state; for this reason, such action might have serious repercussions. Above all, it should be considered that the problem may evolve into interstate and even regional warfare. For Turkey, what would make this option legitimate and justifiable is the growing number of refugees who flee the brutality in Syria to seek safety in Turkey. If the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey sees a significant increase (as of April 2012, the figure was 25,000), Turkey may consider taking measures to create a safe zone within the Syrian borders to relieve the burden on its own territory and resources.
The first question that comes to mind with respect to creating a safe zone is the purpose for taking such a measure. Two expectations would be cited in this regard. First, Turkey would seek to address the problems in connection with the huge inflow of refugees. In this case, the safe zone would serve as a site of refuge for the people escaping the brutality of the Syrian regime. In case the number of refugees reaches an unbearable level, Turkey would have to address probable social, security and economic problems by taking cross-border measures.
The safe zone may turn into a mechanism to achieve political and military goals. In this case, the strategic goal of the safe zone would be changing Bashar al-Assad’s regime. If the goal is set as such, it should be expected that the safe zone would serve tactical purposes. Those who consider defecting from the Syrian army, intelligence or bureaucracy but remain supporters of the regime due to safety concerns could change their alliance safely. In this way, the opposition to the regime could become stronger.
The Syrian military opposition fails to organize because it has been unable to create a permanent safety zone. The opponents are unable to maintain authority in the regions they control. The military opposition that would seek refuge in the safety zone would have the chance to reorganize without being subjected to attacks by the Syrian army. In addition, this military opposition would become more open to cooperation. This would address the concerns over armament of the Syrian opposition. And in the face of a better organized opposition, the Syrian administration may consider serious steps towards genuine democratization rather than superficial concessions. In other words, the creation of a safety zone may force the Syrian regime to consider some measures towards peaceful change.
Given the imbalance of power between the conflicting parties in Syria, the Syrian army will defeat the opposition groups by force unless an external actor takes direct action. This is unacceptable for states like Turkey, which has taken sides with the opposition groups in the power struggle in Syria. If Assad remains in power, this would mean problems for Turkey in its relationship with Syria, the country with which it shares the longest border. And in this case, Turkey’s gate to the Middle East could be closed and Turkey would be detached from the region. For this reason, as long as the Assad administration tries to repress the opposition groups by force and violence, Turkey will still consider military measures.
The only reasonable and applicable method and option appears to be the creation of safety zone by external support and help. One of the risks associated with this option is a probable attack by the Syrian administration, which may see this measure as a vital threat to its integrity and security; this would exacerbate the instability in the country. And this, in the end, may lead to the very comprehensive military intervention that none of the actors is currently considering.