ISIS failures push new Turkey’s strategy on Syria

Alwaght- The Turkish government’s policies in dealing with ISIS terror organization derive from a notion that is adopted in Turkey’s major strategy which eyes for Ankara a key role in West Asia region. This role is always sought by Turkey and demands a return to the strength of Ottoman Empire. Thereby, Ankara spares no effort, including use of the terror group ISIS, to add to its influence across the region. A couple of scenarios could be looked at concerning Turkey’s future policies in dealing with ISIS, including:

-Continuing already-adopted policies and supporting ISIS

So far, the key strategic policy of Turkey was to overthrow the Syrian government. Ankara sees a sole anti-ISIS campaign as only helping shore up Syrian government. In the Turkish viewpoint the principal cause behind rise of the terrorist group is the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, therefore, toppling President Assad would, Turkey  thinks, mean destruction of ISIS. The Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that should the international anti-ISIS coalition wanted to propose cooperation with President Assad, ISIS and other militant and takfiri groups would join forces more than ever. Turkey has indirectly threatened that if Bashar al-Assad remains in power, it would keep supporting ISIS. The same intention is seen, though in different words, in the remarks of the Turkish foreign minister. In a conference on finding more effective ways to confront ISIS held in Paris Çavuşoğlu asserted that Ankara’s top priority was not battling ISIS but toppling the government of Bashar al-Assad.

Therefore, once the Turks get their conditions approved, they would proceed with a joint Washington-Ankara anti-ISIS policy. Actually, if a no-fly zone or a secure zone is established in Syria, the so-called moderate Syrian opposition forces, including Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Al-Tawhid Brigade, are given backing and Syria falls in the hands of the moderate opposition, Turkey would join anti-ISIS campaign, otherwise, it would keep delivering supports to the terrorist organization.

-Adopting a policy of toleration and patience

Having in mind that all of choices available to Turkey about Syria, and to a degree Iraq, are not favorable, it seems that Ankara would stay actionless to meet its defined strategic interests. At the same time, Turkey steers clear of direct clashes with ISIS due to Ankara’s high degree of vulnerability. On the other side, Turkey not only does not find US-led coalition’s anti-ISIS strikes effective but also it begins to grow deep concerns over the future of war in Syria. Turkey is not well ensured that the Americans are the principal winners of war. On the one hand the Turks think that any involvement of Ankara in a war with Syria would bring forth heavy human and financial costs to Turkey, and on the other hand US shows no willingness to make up for Turkish financial and military costs should Ankara gets further engaged in the Syria military developments. The Turkish officials also believe that Washington, like Riyadh, wants to impose on Ankara a part of costs of battle against both ISIS and the Syrian government.

In this scenario the Turkish policy on ISIS depends on the degree of success of the US and the international anti-terror coalition in fight against ISIS. It looks that Turkey would stay tolerant of ISIS until it sees the results of US-led campaign against the terror group.

It must be taken into account that Turkey remains influential openly and secretly in ISIS issue. In fact, Ankara would spare no struggle to undertake its intended role in Syria’s crisis. Turkey’s toleration policy is a product of regional and international pressures and Ankara’s caution not to get its picture tarnished due to its support to ISIS and other terror groups in Syria. This issue could be seriously risky for a country dreaming of re-establishing Ottoman Empire. On the other side, adoptation of a policy of patience by Ankara could originate from a fear of ISIS’ dangers in Turkey. Furthermore, Turkey is not sure that the Western anti-ISIS campaign would work and this is another reason Turkey is showing tolerance in coping with ISIS’ challenge.

-Accordance with the US’ strategy

The third scenario, most likely of all, could be Ankara’s adoptation of official positions close to Washington’s strategy in dealing with ISIS terror organization. Since the spark of crisis in Syria, the Western-Arab axis along with Turkey struggled to support such groups as FSA and National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces to ensure they would take the current Syrian government’s place in the future. Meanwhile, ISIS and al-Nusra Front’s growing power has disturbed the process of support of the so-called Syrian moderate opposition by their backers. Now at the prospects of ISIS’ decline, the Western, Arab and Turkish axis is renewing backing for the so-called “moderate terrorists.”

ISIS’ decline beside growing Turkish officials’ realism to move out of the self-imposed isolation would convince them to move close to Washington’s strategy which is an effort to reduce ISIS’ position and invest on the Syrian opposition groups. As President Assad restores power, his opponents and their supporters join further efforts and think about backing the so-called opposition forces. In this option as well Turkey’s conditions for toppling President Assad’s government would not see the light, but ISIS’ decline process would keep going ahead. This reality would drive Ankara to the notion that whether Turkey is part of the anti-ISIS campaign or not the fight against the terror group for its impairment would continue. Therefore, Turkish officials’ realism would push them close to Western anti-ISIS policies despite the fact that they are not interested in battling the terrorist group ISIS and actually would follow the policy to save their face as they are being known for their support for ISIS. To appease Ankara, the West would support the so-called moderate Syrian opposition groups.

Finally, it could be said that Turkey’s ISIS-related policies are an outcome of Ankara’s outlook for the Turkish place in West Asia. Presently, Turkey and ISIS are sharing consistent interests and as long as this consistency exists, Turkey would use the means of ISIS for its own advantage though in official stances it denies that it does so. As Barry Buzan, the Professor of International Relations at the London School of economics, puts it, the security of any country makes sense in their relations with other countries and no country could independently and away from others speak of national security. Turkey is not an exception either as its security is in connection with the whole region. ISIS and other extremist forces’ activity in neighborhood of Turkey pose serious dangers to Ankara. Also due to interconnected security bonds between the different countries, Ankara’s backing of the terrorist groups, in addition to impacts on national stability of Turkey, would create further destability across the region. Therefore, any regional instability in the future would inflict influences on Turkey.

By Alwaght