Ankara remains powerless in the Middle East

Ankara remains powerless in the Middle East

A stigma relating to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has attached itself to Turkey and refuses to go away. The belief around the world, including part of the Middle East, as well as among Turkish opposition parties, is that Ankara is somehow complicit in the rise of this group and continues to support it.

The latest deadly car bomb attack in Kobane has brought the matter to the surface again with claims that the vehicle used in the attack by ISIL came from Turkey. Meanwhile, Selahattin Demirtas, the co-chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), has claimed that ISIL militants are targeting Kobane from grain silos on the Turkish side of the border.

The government continues to deny these charges vehemently, of course. While it is clear that ISIL has sympathizers in Turkey, and possibly even among some members of the state apparatus, it is difficult to believe that the government has an active but covert policy of providing assistance to this group.

Accusations to that effect, however, just won’t go away, and are fueled by the government’s futile Syria policy which is seriously out of tune with the international community. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu continue to see Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as their main enemy in the region, and prefer to relegate the fight against ISIL to a secondary position.

The world, however, is focused on ISIL as the priority issue that has to be tackled. Reports show that Iran has also started to conduct air strikes against this group in eastern Iraq and while Washington denies that there is any coordination with Tehran, these strikes undoubtedly are welcome for countries that are engaged against ISIL.

It is the apparent reluctance by Ankara to prioritize the threat from ISIL that is fueling the speculation concerning Turkish support for the group. If the government’s fixation with al-Assad was producing any results, one might argue that Ankara is justified in maintaining this policy. But it is not.

Davutoğlu claimed recently, after talks with President Barack Obama in Brisbane, that Washington was coming around to the Turkish position, albeit slowly. There is no evidence to support this, though.  

To the contrary, the resignation of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel shows the Obama administration is not prepared to take its eyes off ISIL at the present time. Press reports that the U.S. and Turkey are moving closer on the question of a buffer zone within Syria have also been denied by Washington.

Ankara is bent on maintaining a failed policy which will continue to produce no results as the official and unofficial international coalition against ISIL grows. But Syria is not the only example of Ankara’s failed regional policies. Egypt is another case in point. Ankara is on shaky ground in this respect, too.

Erdoğan used the occasion of Pope Francis’s visit to blast at European countries, including the Vatican, who welcomed Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi during his recent European tour, and accused them of propping up a military dictator.

Tellingly, however, Erdoğan made no such remark during the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Turkey earlier this week, even though el-Sisi was welcomed with full honors by Moscow in August.

The double standard is glaring and undermines Erdoğan’s moralistic claims concerning al-Assad and el-Sisi. When combined with his recent Islamist outbursts against the West, there is every reason to believe that Erdoğan’s approach to Syrian and Egypt are essentially based on ideology, not on ethics.

Erdoğan and Davutoğlu’s inability to understand the real reasons why the Arab Spring has turned into an Arab Winter, and their obsession with policies that produce no results, continue to ensure Turkey is powerless in the Middle East, even though it is one of the main recipients of the negative fallout from the region.