Turkey can’t evade responsibility in destroying ISIL
The week-long U.N. General Assembly meetings ended on Friday, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan holding talks with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in person and exchanging a phone conversation with President Barack Obama in his last key meetings on Sept. 25.
A week ago, Turkey successfully freed its 46 hostages from the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) after 101 days of captivity. After the release of hostages, Erdoğan’s New York trip gained much more significance, and what we see today as Erdoğan concludes his meetings is that Turkey won’t evade its global and regional responsibilities in the fight against ISIL.
Messages conveyed by Erdoğan indicate that Turkey has accepted being an active part of the anti-ISIL coalition, also pledging military support. His lengthy conversations with Obama and Biden are initial negotiations to determine the level of Turkish participation in the military campaign and to what extent it can contribute.
As stated numerous time by senior U.S. officials, Turkey has been asked to play a central role in the fight and open its airspaces and airbases for the coalition countries. In return, Turkey is heavily emphasizing the need to take care of more than one-and-half-million Syrian refugees in its territories and to establish safe havens inside Syria for providing humanitarian assistance. These zones must be protected from the air by establishing no-fly zone over Syrian airspace, Ankara says. Negotiations to this end are yet to be concluded, but it will surely take time to conclude them.
Whatever the results of these negotiations, it’s quite obvious that Turkey will shoulder responsibility, and in an active way. There are various reasons why Turkey will actively join the military campaign against the ISIL.
First and foremost, one should recall that the global fight against terror has long been one of Turkey’s foreign policy priorities. A determined denouncer of terrorism and an active partner in the fight against terror, Turkey cannot turn its back to ISIL, the world’s deadliest organization operating right on the other side of the border. ISIL has already proven that it poses threats against Turkey’s security, and leaving this problem unaddressed would cause many problems for Turkey both internally and externally. In the end, Turkey would find itself fighting against ISIL either on the border or on the Syrian side of the border.
The second most important aspect is the fact that Turkey needs to take steps to repair its broken image in the West. Already blamed for the growth of ISIL in Syria and for allegedly supplying weapons and funding the organization through the oil trade, Turkey’s inaction against ISIL would further isolate it from its traditional partners in the West. As a member of NATO, Turkey hosts contingents from three NATO countries with their Patriot units against a potential offensive from Syria. As such, not siding with its partners in this fight would only approve the Wall Street Journal’s suggestion: “A non-ally; Turkey.” Turkey’s endorsement of a recent U.N. Security Council resolution on foreign fighters could also be read within this picture.
Thirdly, Turkey has to move because of its strong bonds with Kurdish political groups in Iraq, and because of its own ongoing peace process. Recent developments in Kobane, which led to an influx of Syrian Kurds across the Turkish border following ISIL attacks, show how sensitive Kurdish politics in Iraq and Turkey are regarding the well-being of their kin in Syria. Turkey would obviously not risk its alliance with either the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) or Turkey’s Kurdish political parties for the sake of the resolution process.
Fourth, the mobilization of the international community could also give an opportunity for the Friends of the Syrian People group to take necessary actions against the Bashar al-Assad regime. In the event of Turkey being absent, al-Assad would gain more legitimacy in the eyes of the international community and Ankara’s already long-delayed ambition to topple al-Assad will become nearly impossible.
Given these points, it’s highly expected that Turkey will be in the scene along with other actors, in what is likely to be a long-term armed struggle against terror groups. The struggle will surely take no less than a few years, but it’s still unclear whether it will bring about peace and stability to the region in the fashion that Turkey has long been looking and working for.