Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the press..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Ankara’s flirtation with Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and other jihadist outfits long ago turned into a sour disposition toward Israel. Is Turkey now showing its true colors to the rest of the world as well? Of late Turkey has gone beyond an uncooperative stance vis-à-vis the Islamic State strongholds in Syria and Iraq. Evidence is mounting that Ankara is double- dealing. While posturing as an ally of the West, it offers succor to the very forces the West is out to destroy.
In his heart of hearts, public proclamations notwithstanding, US President Barak Obama must be deeply disappointed by the anti-Islamic State coalition he stitched together. Most of his supposed allies are friends in name only, since they made it clear that they will not employ force against the terrorists. Though they might cheer America on, they will do little more than make the noises expected of them, while continuing to pursue their own narrow interests.
Turkey is the biggest disappointment of the lot. It refuses to make even a pro forma allegiance to the coalition’s loosely phrased goals. This is most serious because Turkey has long borders with Iraq and Syria, making it a key player in any scenario.
But Ankara opted to do more than remain demonstratively inactive. It is actively throwing spanners in the coalition’s works.
Glaringly, Turkey has prohibited American reconnaissance and bombing sorties against jihadist concentrations from the 60-year-old US air base at Incirlik, about 100 km. north of the Syrian border. Turkey, it needs be stressed, is a NATO member and was formerly a staunch ally of the US.
This looks like a rerun of the Turkish refusal to allow any air strikes from its territory in the Second Gulf War against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. But it still gets worse – lots worse – than noncooperation.
Not only is the Turkey of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan obstructing the fight against Islamic State, it appears to aid and abet the very fanatics Obama and his coalition have vowed to take out.
Reports are rife that Turkey helps Islamic State stay prosperous and self-sufficient. Much of the terrorist group’s wealth comes from the sale of oil pumped from 10 oil fields and refineries – mostly in Iraq – that it has seized. This nets Islamic State around $2 million a day.
It may be peanuts for the potentates of the oil-glutted Arabian Peninsula, but it is a sweet set-up for rogue militias that can use the money to bankroll their warriors and spread their influence.
It is an open secret that this oil makes its way from Iraq to Turkey, where black-market transactions take place in unabashed defiance of Washington’s ban.
Erdogan has shown little inclination to sever the trade conduit or disrupt the unconcealed flow of manpower and weaponry from Turkey into Islamic State-held portions of Syria and Iraq.
All this rings familiar to anyone who kept tabs on the broad violations of commercial sanctions on Iran over recent years. Turkey always loomed large among the offenders – right up there with pseudo sanction-backers such as China and Russia and radical regimes in South America. Iranian oil somehow flowed to Turkey despite international embargoes.
While in the past Erdogan denied knowledge of the use of Turkey as a transit point for goods and troops to Islamic State, word now is that he denies that Ankara can in any way control any of the cross-border shenanigans.
Relations between Turkey and the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, are especially chummy.
In Obama’s effort to reorient American diplomacy toward an Islamic bloc, he visited Ankara and Istanbul in April 2009 and, heaping effusive praise, upheld the Turks not solely as strategic partners, but as model Muslims. After the advent of the “Arab Spring,” Turkey featured in Obama’s rhetoric as an example of “Islamic democracy” that others ought to emulate.
The time has come for Washington to reconsider who its real regional allies are.