Analysis: Istanbul attack reveals Erdogan’s crumbling sense of stability

The terrorist attack jolted the state, prompting a government ordered media blackout. Turkey initially reported that the suicide bomber was a Syrian.

January 13, 2016 14:39
2 minute read.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends the opening session of the World Climate Change Conference

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends the opening session of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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BERLIN – A terrorist bombing on Tuesday in the heart of Istanbul’s major tourism district that killed 10 people and left 15 injured showed the fragility of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s security promises.

“It has become apparent how important stability is to our nation,” Erdogan said in November, during the country’s national election.

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By targeting the vibrant area of the former Ottoman Empire, the alleged Islamic State suicide bomber, Saudi- born Nabil Fadli, sought to further decimate Turkey’s struggling tourism industry.

The terrorist attack jolted the state, prompting a government ordered media blackout. Turkey initially reported that the suicide bomber was a Syrian.

The bombing was likely a retaliatory move by Islamic State following Turkey’s crackdown on rising jihadism within its territory and along the 500-mile border it shares with Syria, as well as its shared border with Iraq.

Just last week Erdogan announced that Turkish forces killed 18 members of Islamic State after the terrorists sought to enter a training camp in the Bashiqa region of northern Iraq.

Questions, however, abound over the targeting of tourists. At least 10 Germans – part of a tourist group – were killed. Germany provides the second largest sector of tourism for Turkey.

Germany entered the conflict against Islamic State at a late stage. After a special request from French President François Hollande to provide military aid in the operation against the terrorist group, following its coordinated attacks in Paris that murdered 130 people, Chancellor Angela Merkel reluctantly agreed.

The German military aid is minimal; the Bundeswehr agreed to provide a naval frigate, satellite images, aerial refueling and Tornado reconnaissance jets.

Terrorist attacks have plagued Turkey over the last year. Islamic State-affiliated suicide bombers murdered more than 30 people in Suruc in southeastern Turkey in July. In October, suicide bombers launched attacks at a peace event in Ankara, killing 102 people, and Turkish authorities blamed Islamic State for the explosions.

While the Turkish authorities claim Tuesday’s attack in Istanbul is linked to Islamic State, some media commentators pointed to the unrest in eastern Turkey among Kurds seeking independence.

Erdogan has closed off large swathes of eastern Turkey to the media in order to wage a large-scale military operation targeting the PKK – the Kurdistan Workers’ Party – which the EU, Turkey and the US classify as a terrorist entity. The Turkish Human Rights Foundation said 162 civilians have died since August.

Turkey faces a third terrorist threat from The Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front. The anti-Western group considers the US the global “arch enemy.”

Two women from the Marxist group fired weapons on the US consulate in Istanbul in August. In 2013, the group launched a suicide attack on the US embassy in Ankara.

The violence in Turkey and outside of its borders has turned Erdogan’s declared policy of “zero problems with neighbors” into a running joke.

Russia began sanctions on Turkey after the Turkish military shot down a Russian jet flying over its territory.

The only slice of hope for Erdogan’s policy appears to be the ongoing talks between Israel and Turkey to restore full diplomatic relations.

Erdogan broke off relations with the Jewish state after Israel intercepted the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara in 2010, which sought to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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