The Turkey-Syria border is on fire. Last week, first a Syrian jet was shot down by Turkey after it crossed into Turkish air space. Then, the Turkish police conducted an operation in Istanbul against members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al-Qaeda-affiliated group in Syria. Meanwhile, a Turkish fighter jet was harassed a couple of times by Syria on the Turkish-Syrian border. Last but not least, the very same day, two successive explosions happened in Reyhanlı, a Turkish town near the Syrian border.
No need to mention that the tomb of Süleyman Şah, which is based in Syria, but is considered Turkish territory on the basis of an agreement signed by France and Turkey in 1921, is still at stake. Turkey was threatened by the ISIL on March 20 to lower its flag on the tomb. The result could be occupation.
Within this context, the recording in which Turkey’s top officials are heard discussing possible military action in Syria, was posted on YouTube last week. The next day, the government ordered the shutdown of the site.
Hence the question arose: Will Turkey invade Syria?
In order to answer the question, I first spoke to a top government official who, in first place, said the leaked meeting was a routine gathering to discuss possible scenarios. I asked him who Turkey’s main enemy in Syria at the moment is, referring to the al-Assad regime and the ISIL. He replied that both are Turkey’s enemies, but that the ISIL poses a greater threat to security. It is also crystal clear that Turkey would not conduct an operation without the support of the international community, mainly the U.S.
Next, I asked a top Foreign Ministry official whether the allegations that Turkey supports radical groups in Syria, such as al-Nusra and ISIL are true. As all of the state officials have done before, he rigorously refused these claims.
The recent developments, specifically the besieging of Süleyman Şah’s tomb by the ISIL, prove the radicals in Syria are threatening Turkey. This also has an ideological dimension. The members of the ISIL who attacked Turkish gendarmes in the Central Anatolian province of Niğde last week, said they killed the officers for being “heretics.”
Having spoken to state officials and earlier to Syrians on some refugee camps, it looks like the Islamic Front (IF) is the source of the allegations that Turkey supports radical groups in Syria. The IF is predominantly moderate and does not stand for the shariah. It used to stand halfway between the al-Qaeda-linked groups and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is officially supported by Turkey. Hence, both sides tried to pull the group toward itself. Turkey is also aiming to bring the IF closer to the FSA. This seems to be the root of the given allegations.
Turkey, as the worst-hit country by this war, is between two fires. Any action would have existential consequences. The government makes its assessments by taking this fact into account. It is not within reason to prompt the government to get engaged in an operation. It is equally unreasonable not to stand altogether against the leak of the state’s top secrets, no matter what one’s political affiliation is.