Turkey vs ISIS: Ankara’s yield to US pressure means a huge game-changer – with high risks

Turkey launching war against ISIS has led to several noteworthy analysis.

One is by Ilhan Tanır, who in an an article titled ‘Will this Cop Killing start a Civil War?’ – in the Daily Beast, writes that,

”Turkey is in serious trouble. The country’s political situation is more unstable today than it has been since 2002. The economy, once hailed for its vigorous growth, is now flagging, violence is back on the streets, and society is incredibly polarized—all thanks to the uncompromising policies of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Start with the worst development in years: On Wednesday, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), whose fighters have been intermittent states of war with the Turkish government for over three decades, murdered two Turkish police officers in revenge, as the PKK put it, for an ISIS-linked suicide bombing in the southeastern city of Suruc, which killed 32 Kurdish activists on Monday. A tenuous ceasefire agreed to between Ankara and the PKK in 2013 is now in tatters. The threat of further acts of terrorism, and heavy-handed military responses, now seems inevitable.

It’s hard to overstate the developments of the last 72 hours. According to Behlul Ozkan, an assistant professor at Marmara University and the author of the bookFrom the Abode of Islam to the Turkish Vatan, the Suruc attack is akin to Turkey’s own September 11. “All of us have been worried an ISIS-coordinated attack would hit us at some point,” Ozkan told The Daily Beast. “Many have been warning about this deadly threat and calling on the AKP government to move swiftly against the ISIS networks inside Turkey for years. So the real issue is that even though such an attack has been on its way, for all intents and purposes, the government has failed to stop it again.”

Allegations that there may be direct ties between ISIS and AKP have been bandied about for years in Turkey’s local and international media. The argument runs that Erdogan, so desperate to overthrow the Assad regime in Damascus and install an Islamist-led government in its place, transformed Turkey into a jihadist gatewayinto the Syrian opposition-controlled pockets of northern Syria. Lax border security was born of benign neglect, runs this theory, the better to facilitate the flow of radical foreign fighters into a war-torn southern neighbor’s territory, and as a result, ISIS has also established networks and cells on Turkish soil.

While there’s no hard evidence to prove such ISIS-AKP collaboration, the accusations have attained a measure of plausibility that is in itself enormously destructive to the Turkish body politic and any sense of national cohesion. “Many segments of Turkey,” Ozkan said, “from seculars to liberals to Kurds, are suspicious about some unclear tie between the two. On this, the perception of AKP’s support of ISIS is widely shared and agreed by many, whatever the reality.”

Simon Tisdall, in his article titled ‘US deal with Turkey over ISIS may go beyond simple use of an air base’, in the Guardian, comments:

”Demands for Turkey’s assistance were doubly unwelcome given Washington’s criticisms of Erdoğan’s authoritarian, neo-Islamist leadership style, his attacks on human rights and press freedom, and his open hostility to a key US ally, Israel. But Erdoğan cuts a somewhat weakened figure these days, after voters rebuffed his attempt to create an executive presidency in elections in June.

Having misjudged the public mood, he has much ground to make up. The Suruç bombing demanded a radical rethink. And just as he was considering what he should do, Obama – with perfect timing – came on the line. Turkish and US officials say, blandly, that the telephone conversation between the two men on Wednesday ended with agreement to “stem the flow of foreign fighters and secure Turkey’s border with Syria”. Bülent Arınç, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, said: “There is a consensus [and] unanimity of thought and action has been reached about the issue of joint operations in the future.”

Although Erdoğan is all but keeping schtum, the new understanding with Washington may go much further than simply allowing US (and British) use of the Incirlik airbase in Adana from early August. Incirlik will give coalition aircraft a huge advantage. Instead of flying 2,000km from bases and carriers in the Gulf, they will now be within 400km range of Raqqa, the Isis headquarters in Syria, giving them much greater operational flexibility and scope.

But Turkish reports suggest the agreement also covers the “emergency” use by allied aircraft of other Turkish airbases, including those in the south-eastern provinces of Batman, Diyarbakır and Malatya, plus more general permission to use Turkish airspace. It seems another longstanding US proposal, to fly armed or surveillance drones out of Turkey, has also been accepted.

Erdoğan did not simply roll over. He had his own tally of requirements when Obama called. Top of his list is the establishment of a designated buffer zone inside Syria – effectively a de facto no-fly zone protected by coalition and Turkish forces – which would provide a safe haven for refugees and deny crucial territory to the Syrian Kurds. Turkish reports suggest the US has quietly agreed to this, although no official announcement has been made.”

‘The 90km line between Mare [Marea] and Cerablus [Jarabulus] [in northern Syria] will be 40 to 50km deep,” Hürriyet newspaper reported, quoting unidentified official sources, who added that the zone could be expanded in future. “This security line will prevent radical groups such as the Isis or the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra Front from gaining the mentioned land. US-led coalition jets will provide security over the land ‘when needed’, carrying out ‘attacking or exploration’ flights, sources said.” Such operations could presumably involve British combat jets as well as American planes.

Under the reported no-fly zone agreement, Syrian regime jets will not be permitted within the zone, and those that violate it will be targeted, Hürriyet reported. And, it suggested, the US has agreed to turn a blind eye to possible future Turkish military action against the Syrian Kurds. “The agreement did not directly target the Syrian-Kurdish Democratic Union party (PYD), but a counter move will be possible if the PYD and its armed forces, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), threaten the Turkish border, namely bidding to change the demographic structure, according to sources. However, they said the US would not take a direct stance against the PYD, which is now fighting against Isis.”

In addition, Turkey is planning new border security measures to halt the flow of foreign jihadis, including surveillance balloons and West Bank-style fortifications and separation walls. In return, it has been assured that European countries such as Britain will do more to prevent would-be Isis recruits heading for Turkey.”

About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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