Turkey’s most critical decision yet to come

Turkey’s most critical decision yet to come

Turkey is about to take one of the most critical decisions regarding its role in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The decision-making process is still underway with a number of high-level security meetings in Ankara, participated in by top civilian and military officials.

Following President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s week-long trip to New York, where he held important talks with U.S. President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and the leaders of other members of the anti-ISIL coalition, Ankara has engaged in intense work to draw its own road map.

The first meeting took place between President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu at midnight on Sept. 29, their first in-person encounter since the former’s return from New York. On Sept. 30, Davutoğlu chaired the weekly Cabinet meeting, but this time he invited Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel and other top commanders to give a briefing on the state of security along the border and the army’s readiness against potential threats.

The Cabinet meeting was suspended for a short period of time to allow a security summit with limited participation. These meetings have two primary objectives: To finalize the wording of the motions authorizing the army to carry out cross border operations into Iraq and Syria when necessary, to conclude a road map that Turkey will pursue in the fight against ISIL, and to address Turkey’s own security needs.

Parliament will convene on Oct. 1 to open the legislative year and the first thing it will do is approve these motions on Oct. 2. (It is also possible that the government could merge these two motions into one and define the threats that could be posed towards Turkey from its southern borders.)
The content of the motion - or the motions - will give us important clues about Turkey’s next decisions on its contribution to the anti-ISIL coalition.

There are certain parameters that would affect the nature of these decisions, including the establishment of safe havens inside Syria and a no-fly zone, deploying troops in these zones for the protection of displaced Syrians, inviting troops from other coalition partners, training moderate Syrian rebels, etc. Here are some parameters that will affect Turkish stance:

International law: Establishing buffer zones, a security zone or any kind of a piece of territory inside another country requires international legitimacy. In this frame, a resolution to be adopted by the U.N. Security Council is must. The lack of legitimacy would put Turkey into a difficult situation. Positions of the coalition members: Members of the anti-ISIL coalition are not warm to the idea of building such zones as they would require ground troops. Washington has made it clear that its short term plans do not contain building such zones inside Syria. There are media reports about Turkey’s plans to invite troops from other coalition members, but they are far from being realistic. It seems unlikely that Turkey will act unilaterally.

Bashar al-Assad’s positions: The U.S.-led anti-ISIL offensive has been welcomed by Damascus. The Syrian foreign minister has hailed the attacks and said the objectives of Damascus are fully in line with the anti-ISIL coalition. The attacks are being carried out with the knowledge of al-Assad and are seen by many as a move to reinforce the regime. Although coalition members publicly denounce al-Assad’s regime and describe it illegitimate, the developments in the field are not in line with this rhetoric.

Objectives: It’s therefore difficult to say that Turkey and the coalition agree on what the primary objective should be. Turkey says the coalition’s campaign should target the al-Assad regime as the source of the ISIL problem, but its allies are not on the same page as Turkey.

The resolution process: The ongoing Kurdish resolution process currently stands as an important aspect in front of Turkey’s probable decisions. The clashes between ISIL militants and the PYD in northern Syria have shown just how fragile the situation over the resolution process now is.
Refugee crisis: With the increase in the number of refugees, Turkey is undertaking a huge responsibility. It will have to consider this growing burden before making a critical decision, and it will continue to press allies to share this responsibility.

A decision to be made by Turkey within this frame is likely going to be limited, but the army will have an expanded authorization to respond to any kind of threats that could be directly posed to Turkey.