US not in favor of resumption of Turkish flights over Syria

US not in favor of resumption of Turkish flights over Syria

The truck attacker who killed 84 civilians in Nice, France, sent another shockwave to the world, which had barely recovered from consecutive jihadist attacks in Orlando, Istanbul, Dhaka and Baghdad that claimed the lives of hundreds of people. The attack in Nice bore resemblance to the assault on a gay nightclub in Orlando, as both assailants could be described as self-radicalized “lone wolves.” 

Using a truck to run over people seems to be a new terrorist means, in line with earlier jihadist calls for its sympathizers to use anything they find appropriate to kill infidels if they have no weapons or bombs. The Nice attack will surely have consequences in introducing new anti-terror measures. 

Although there was no direct link showing an affiliation of the attacker in Nice with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as this piece was being written on July 15, French President François Hollande underlined that Paris would intensify its military operations in Syria and Iraq to defeat jihadist terrorism.

Having already labeled the Nice incident an “Islamic terrorist attack,” Hollande drew attention once again to the ongoing anti-ISIL fight in Turkey’s southern neighbors. In a second statement later in the day, he abandoned his rhetoric on “Islamist terror” but stressed that the fight against extremists would continue. 

On the same night as the attack took place, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Moscow to talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin on how to coordinate the world’s two superpowers’ efforts in Syria in order to degrade and defeat ISIL. After lengthy talks that lasted until the early hours of July 15, Kremlin spokesperson Dimitry Peskov said military cooperation had not been directly discussed at the meeting. “A lot of questions remain regarding real interaction in implementing operations in Syria,” Peskov said. 

The meeting between Kerry and Putin seems to be the beginning of a new process in the fight against ISIL, as the U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition and Russia have been conducting separate operations since last fall. According to a document published by the Washington Post on July 14 prior to the Kerry-Putin meeting, Washington was to present in Moscow a call for sharing intelligence to identify leadership targets, training camps, supply lines and headquarters of the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. It also suggested the establishment of a Joint Implementation Group based in Amman for the coordination of strikes against ISIL targets. 

Although we are yet to see the frame and scope of this new partnership between Washington and Moscow, it could well be a game-changing move in Syria. 

What makes it more interesting is that it comes at a time when Turkey and Russia are about to normalize their relationship, amid statements from both that they will also prioritize addressing the situation in Syria in this new era. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş underlined on July 15 that rapprochement between Ankara and Moscow would help bring a political solution to the problem. 

It should be noted that this normalization with Russia is coming at a time when Turkey has been losing its military leverage in Syria because of a deep disagreement with the U.S. over the role of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and the fact that its warplanes cannot fly over Syria due to - now reduced - tension with Russia. 
Now, the question in Ankara and elsewhere is whether Turkey will be able to resume its flights in Syrian airspace given the current reconciliation with Russia. The answer seems to be “not very likely.” 

It is believed that the anti-ISIL coalition, led by the U.S., considers sufficient the support given by Turkish artillery in ongoing efforts to seal a 98-kilometer-long part of the Turkey-Syria border. Furthermore, NATO’s decision to upgrade Turkey’s air defense system with the deployment of AWACs and other military means is considered to be another reason to keep Turkish jets away from Syria in order to not complicate the situation.

It will be quite interesting to see the military and political results of these rapprochements with Russia by both Turkey and the U.S.