It Has All Become Clear, President Erdoğan “Gets” It. This attack came as a brutal shock and underscores the increasing tension in the region to which Turkey is no longer immune.
By Abdennour Toumi
The Istanbul attacks on Tuesday night at Ataturk Airport rank as the fifth deadliest terrorist attack in the last six months. This international airport is the third busiest in Europe and 11th in the world. For the large majority of Turks, who see themselves as pro-Western and their country as stable as any in the Mid-West!
Indeed, the current geo-political imperatives are shaping the country’s foreign and defense policies’ determinants and priorities. Analysts evoke Ankara’s involvement in Syria as a causality of its bad strategical judgment. Consequently, Ankara today is harvesting catastrophic policy failures abroad, which has explicitly made the stability that Turks have been enjoying a domestic security policy challenge.
President Erdoğan and his government led by his AKP party have invested heavily in the on-going civil war in Syria dedicating considerable resources to removal of the al-Assad regime, even though recently the international community has opted for a political rather than a military solution.
President Erdoğan and his Premier and the architect of the “zero-neighbors’ problems” strategy, Dr. Davutuğlu, have favored arming and hosting Syrian Islamists to fight against the al-Assad regime; these moderate Islamist groups and factions once became central to Turkey’s foreign policy objectives in the light of the Arab uprisings.
Yet, the secular politicians and media in Turkey have placed all the blame for the airport attacks on President Erdoğan, whose U-turn on ISO policy in July, 2015, a hawkish domestic security policy that came in the wake of the Suruç attack on the Kurdish youth movement, initiated a change in policy to fight ISO on the one hand and on the other to focus on the PKK and its small “sleeper” cells in the large cities, Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir…
Such a move has caused President Erdoğan’s ideological opponents to argue that “he is ignoring the direct threat of ISO; the supra-national jihadist organization has been enjoying the cruise mode of the AKP government, walking freely in the country.” ISO has been using the southern cities of Antep, Urfa, and Osmaniya as a logistical rear base for jihadists. Oddly, the city of Konya, the capital city of Sufism, has become the bastion of ISO and local salafism, and according to local eyewitness accounts, their number passes thousands.
This security faux pas from Ankara, turning a blind eye on ISO members, instead has been to focus fully on the PKK, a Marxist movement that aims for autonomy in the southeastern provinces, marketing their movement as a model for the entire Middle East. In fact, the PKK has been fighting the state for the past 40 years for a combination of political and human rights for the country’s beleaguered Kurds.
Now the Democratic Union Party (PYD) (PKK’s sister group) and major Western allies including the U.S. whose position on the PYD is hypocritically bizarre (Washington considers PKK a terrorist organization) are meanwhile giving air support to PYD in its fight in the northern Kurdish region of Syria.
This development has risen to international acclaim in the course of the Syrian civil war and the PYD has established cantons in the Kurdish region in northern Syria (ROJAVA).
In contrast, Turkey’s problems are related to the Syrian civil war to a significant extent. Ankara has also become increasingly disconnected from friends and allies in the international community, which has undermined coordination with the West on the question of intelligence and security.
A question that many analysts are raising regarding the Ataturk Airport attacks, how much coordination and information exchange on ISO threats has been shared between Western intelligence and Ankara on one hand and with Moscow and Tehran on the other?
But Ankara has bounced back quickly, feeling it is paying a price for its bold attitude on the Syrian dossier and the Arab uprisings in general, feeling betrayed by its “friends” in the region and “allies” in the West. Thus Ankara knows well it needs those friends and allies. In recent weeks it has sought détente with Tel-Aviv and Moscow following the severing of ties in 2010 after the Gaza flotilla raid and with Russia after Turkey downed one of its jets last November.
This reversal is rather a reframing in Ankara’s foreign policy toward Russia, Israel, and undoubtedly Egypt will follow. Indeed Russia’s bad terms with Ankara began to hurt the economies of both countries. According to Professor Bayram Balçi of Sciences Po, Paris, …”I think the reconciliation is a must.” From his perspective one realizes Ankara has been marginalized more than ever in the Syrian crisis.
As with Israel, Turkey has no more allies, though at least with Israel the reconciliation is going to allow economic profits thanks to the gas and commerce exchange. As a result, it pushes Ankara to look for a more pragmatic and balanced foreign policy.
Turkey’s problems stem to some extent from the Syrian civil war; in other words, Ankara requires genuine cooperation from its allies, notably Washington, to work together for the political solution in Syria, and from the E.U on the refugees’ issue, a card that Ankara still holds as cause for more instability for the European community.
On the domestic level, it also has to return to the negotiation table with the PKK to avoid an apocalyptic scenario — an alliance of ISO-PKK factions. Such a nightmare scenario would push for an ethnic and sectarian polarization that would really let the Turks see themselves just like any other country in the Middle East.
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