Analysis: Turkey balks at helping West, prefers Sunni jihadists

Erdogan who supports the Muslim Brotherhood regionally, seeks Syria’s downfall at the hands of the Islamists.

September 15, 2014 03:58
3 minute read.
kerry erdogan

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) and US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) leave a meeting in Ankara September 12, 2014. . (photo credit: REUTERS)

Turkey is barely lifting a finger for NATO against Islamic State, not because it mainly fears for the life of 49 Turkish hostages held by the group, but because it sympathizes with its Sunni jihadist ideology.

US Secretary of State John Kerry won backing on Thursday for a “coordinated military campaign” against Islamic State from 10 Arab countries – Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and six Gulf states including rich rivals Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

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Turkey, however, was not one of them.

US officials played down hopes of persuading Ankara to take a significant role in any military involvement, saying Friday’s talks with Turkey focused on issues including its efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters crossing its territory and its role in providing humanitarian assistance.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an Islamist, who, along with Qatar, supports the Muslim Brotherhood regionally – including Hamas – seeks Syria’s downfall at the hands of the Islamist- dominated opposition.

In the regional sectarian confrontation between Sunnis and Shi’ites, Turkey has thrown its support behind revolutionary Sunni movements.

Consequently, that puts the country at odds with its southern neighbors: the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Shi’ite-ruled Iraq.

Turkey is also concerned about strengthening Kurds in Iraq and Syria, who the US-led alliance is seeking to aid militarily. Turkey’s own Kurdish insurgents waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state and are engaged in a delicate peace process.

Francis Ricciardone, who was until late June the US ambassador in Turkey, said on Thursday that Ankara had supported groups including the Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s Syrian branch, in the fight against Assad, much to the dismay of Washington.

“Turkey’s lack of cooperation with NATO and the West is nothing new,” Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, told The Jerusalem Post.

“Ankara adopted policies that vary greatly from NATO preferences,” he said, adding that “it supports Hamas, it circumvents sanctions against Iran and against Russia, and plans to buy a Chinese anti-aircraft and missile system.”

“All this stems from Turkey’s desire not to be fully integrated in the Western alliance as it has clear Islamist sympathies,” Inbar said.

Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official, told the Post that Turkey’s “explanation about Islamic State holding Turkish hostages is nonsense” since the country has not hesitated to fight against the Kurdish PKK, even when it held Turks hostage.

“And the fact that Turkey refuses to label Islamic State a terrorist group speaks volumes about its true position,” said Rubin, pointing out that Istanbul has shops not only selling the group’s memorabilia, but promising to send the proceedings from it to Syria.

“The simple fact is that Erdogan ideologically leans more toward the Islamic State than NATO,” asserted Rubin, adding that Erdogan embraces radicalism.

This can be demonstrated by the fact that the Turkish president supports Hamas rather than the Palestinian Authority, or people like Saudi businessman Yasin al-Qadi, who the US Treasury Department designated as an al-Qaida financier.

“The problem is that NATO is governed by consensus and so having Erdogan’s Turkey inside its ranks is a cancer that can undermine any NATO operation,” said Rubin.

“Turkey was once a crucial NATO member but now it’s time to say goodbye. Nor would NATO be losing much,” he argued. “Like the Soviet Army after Stalin’s purges, the Turkish army is weakened, and with the threat of jail looming over every commander, it has become afraid of its own shadow.”

“Turkey has become Pakistan on the Mediterranean.

Its diplomats might talk a good game but it would rather have a Sunni Islamist terrorist group on its border than a Kurdistan entity,” Rubin said.

“Erdogan’s sectarian hatred for the Shi’ites in Iraq trumps any responsible approach to Iraq that would recognize the fact that Iraq is majority Shi’ite and so governed by Shi’ites,” he added.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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