The huge earthquake that struck eastern Turkey and northwestern Syria in the early hours of Monday the 6th has caused shock and horror both in the region and in Europe. At this point, there are already close to 42,000 deaths and there are thousands of buildings destroyed in the two countries, many of which did not meet seismic standards, especially on the Syrian side, destroyed by a decade of war and neglect of civil powers. European governments have mobilized to send rescue equipment and material, but the geopolitical situation of the affected region has been a serious problem. The aid to Turkey has been sent while Erdogan was still at odds with various countries, from Sweden to Greece, and at odds with almost every other government and European institutions. It is possible that now the need forces him to soften the xenophobic language that he was using, given that there are presidential elections on May 14. In the meantime, although the state of emergency decree allows him to repress the opposition even more, it is to be expected that the gigantic failures of the rescue policy, which have left thousands of people trapped under the rubble and freezing to death, will take a toll for your incompetence as a leader; at least, that is what the furious spontaneous reactions of the earthquake victims imply.
As for aid to Syria, it is becoming even more complicated and controversial: on the one hand, there is the weight of international sanctions on the El Asad regime; on the other, most of the area of the country that has been affected is in the hands of rebels, either the jihadists of the province of Idlib, or the Turkish mercenaries of Afrin, or the Kurds of the YPG in the northeast. The delays have meant that more victims died every day under the collapsed buildings, since properly equipped foreign rescue teams could not arrive in time. Although Russia and some Arab states have sent aid to Assad-controlled territories, Idlib province has remained largely inaccessible because the only entrance from Turkey is a road badly damaged by the quake.
The Turkey-Syria border area remains one of the world’s geopolitical quagmire, a major epicenter of tensions and fault lines running through the Middle East toward Europe. It was the gateway for thousands of European jihadists who headed east to Syria and Iraq in the late 2010s, and today it remains one of the main routes for waves of millions of immigrants heading towards Europe. from all over the region and even from Southwest Asia.
In addition, this focus of instability in the Middle East is located between two major conflict zones: the war between Russia and Ukraine, which is the largest armed confrontation of this size on European soil since the end of World War II and which is now beginning its second year, and the spiral of violence in Israel and Palestine since Netanyahu’s return to power, which CIA director Bill Burns has compared to the beginnings of the second Intifada in 2000 (whose suicidal acts paved the way for for the kamikaze attacks of Al Qaeda on 11-S).
After Israeli minister Itamar Ben Gvir took a provocative walk on the Temple Mount and Al Aqsa esplanade, just as Ariel Sharon did 12 years ago, an Israeli army raid on the West Bank countryside of Jenin killed nine people and, in retaliation, Palestinians killed seven Jews in front of a Jerusalem synagogue during the sabbath. The visit of the US Secretary of State Blinken, on January 30 and 31, was of no avail, since Netanyahu’s Cabinet has decided to promote new settlements and the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmud Abbas, refuses to cooperate with Israel security and anti-terrorism. This spiral of violence and the absence of a political agenda are also observed from Europe with great fear, due to its possible reverberations in a continent where millions of Jews and Muslims live. In the past decades it has been seen that the bloody attacks against synagogues or Jewish schools in Europe have been indirect reflections of the confrontations in the Holy Land, especially whenever there has been a political impasse between Israel and Palestine. In an international context like this, a few sparks in Europe could engulf the continent in flames. In Sweden, after a Koran was burned on January 21 at an authorized demonstration, someone asked permission to set a Torah on fire in public, but the response was to forbid it. There is an ember that is waiting for someone to fan it, in a most volatile context. The European social agenda is littered with strikes on both sides of the English Channel, sparked by double-digit inflation over tight Russian gas supplies, and huge tensions around the Mediterranean over persistent illegal immigration. As a consequence, far-right parties are on the rise across the continent, from Norway to Spain and from Poland to Greece, with a strong anti-Islam agenda, mixing memories of the jihadist massacres of the late 1990s with fear. to a demographic transformation in which Muslims count more and more due to waves of immigrants: what is called the threat of the “great replacement”.
These are the perspectives from which Europeans, with the war drums in Ukraine growing louder and lacking a cohesive political and military capacity, watch in shock and awe at the catastrophic earthquake in Turkey and Syria and the resumption of violence in the Holy Land.