Turkey will become more active in anti-ISIL coalition

Turkey will become more active in anti-ISIL coalition

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) special meeting in Istanbul was attended at the highest level by figures from the Turkish government.

While talking to a Turkish colleague, it seems that WEF founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab said they wanted to make a fresh start with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan now that the latter has become president! It's difficult to forget, but let’s remind readers that Erdoğan stormed out of a WEF panel in Davos in 2009 after a war of words with the Israeli president, vowing to never attend again.

The government can now brag about bringing the WEF to Istanbul, but the high-level attendance - from President Erdoğan to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, from Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan to Energy Minister Taner Yıldız - showed that the government is also keen to keep warm relations with the WEF.

One of the panels was on the ongoing humanitarian crisis of refugees in Turkey, and hosted Erdoğan's special advisor, İbrahim Kalın, as one of the panelists. While all of the signals coming from the Western capitals show a lack of appetite for Turkey’s call on forming a no-fly zone or a safe haven on the Turkish-Syrian border, Kalın insisted negotiations concerning that issue were continuing with Turkey’s allies. “While some views support it; there are others who believe it is too early; there are different assessments and negotiations are still underway,” he said.

An impression has developed that Turkey is placing the creation of safe haven or secure zone within Iraq as a condition of its contribution to the anti-Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) coalition. But Turkish officials are trying to underline the fact that they are willing to contribute to the fight against ISIL, and in fact, Turkish planes bombing ISIL targets will also be on the table when the government sits down to finalize its contribution to the coalition.

Kalın also recalled how Turkey had promised to be more active following the release of the 49 hostages who were held by ISIL. “Even before the release of the hostages, Turkey did its share by sharing intelligence and beefing up security at the border,” he said. But Ankara wants to see an integrated approach that will deal with what Kalın said is the “root cause” that led to the creation of the “monster called ISIL.” “ISIL will be pushed back in Iraq,” he said of the bombings that have mainly taken place in Iraq, “But then they will go back to Syria, and they will bounce back.”

The integrated approach for Ankara means, first of all, to avoid repeating the same mistakes in Iraq of supporting the Nouri al-Maliki regime. The government in Baghdad needs to be much more inclusive, especially with the Sunnis in the country, and there, with the formation of the new government, there seems to be room for optimism.

But as for the other part of the integrated approach, Ankara wants more robust policies against the Bashar al-Assad regime. That will be harder to get. Ankara seems highly frustrated by the lack of decision making on the part of the Obama administration. Turkish officials believe that the initial hesitation to arm “moderates” like the Free Syrian Army led to a vacuum that has been filled in with extremist radicals such as ISIL. The West initially feared that the arms sent to the moderates would end up in the hands of the radicals, but that stance did not prevent the emergence of a radical group like ISIL, Turkish officials say. On the contrary, after the fall of Mosul, ISIL took hold of U.S. weaponry that was initially given to the al-Maliki government, according to Turkish officials.

It looks like there still is a big gap between Ankara and its Western allies on how to tackle the turmoil in Iraq and Syria. Both sides seem to be overwhelmed by the speed and the unexpected direction that developments have taken. It will be difficult to match the West’s inability to act according to Turkey’s desire for robust action. Yet, the most recent rhetoric and signs coming from the government indicate that Turkey will become much more active in the anti-ISIL coalition, even if its expectations are not met.