Analysis: Turkey appeases US in token gesture on Islamic State battle

Turkey is “throwing a bone to try to get the US to commit itself against [Syrian President Bashar] Assad,” says Israeli expert.

October 21, 2014 08:06
2 minute read.
kobani syria

Smoke and flames rise over the Syrian border town of Kobani after an airstrike, October 20, 2014. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Turkey finally made a token concession to the US in its battle against Islamic State, allowing some Iraqi Kurdish fighters to aid their brethren in the Kurdish Syrian town of Kobani. But it was a move made only for show.

Turkey has rejected aiding NATO in its fight against Islamic State, since Ankara sympathizes with its Sunni jihadist ideology – and because it sees the group as weakening its long time Kurdish foes.

Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that he sees Turkey’s latest move as part of a negotiation process with the US.

Turkey is “throwing a bone to try to get the US to commit itself against [Syrian President Bashar] Assad,” said Inbar, adding that Erdogan’s strategic goal is to oust Assad, which will benefit Sunnis.

“Allowing a few peshmergas to cross their border might only prolong the suffering of the Kurds” he said, pointing out that it is likely to result in more Kurdish fighters being killed, something “that is not inimical to Turkish interests.”

Ankara views the Syrian Kurds with deep suspicion because of their ties to the PKK, a group that waged a decades-long militant campaign for Kurdish rights in Turkey, and which Washington regards as a terrorist organization.

However, by allowing in Kurdish fighters from Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Turkey was able to tamper criticism of its lack of cooperation against Islamic State and seek to appease the Kurds – who have held lethal riots against the government’s policies in the southeastern part of the country.

Turkey has built a business- like relationship with the KRG, who are trying to export oil independently via their northern neighbor, avoiding the central government in Baghdad.

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: Assad’s regime and Shi’ite-ruled Iraq.

Hence, Erdogan’s government is unlikely to do anything significant to aid the US-led coalition against Islamic State – both for ideological and strategic purposes.

Islamic State’s regional havoc against the Kurds, the Shi’ite forces and Assad, only serves to strengthen Turkey’s power vis-à-vis these parties, without any effort on its part.

Moreover, for any help Erdogan is willing to grant the US and its allies, it will be sure to receive action against Assad in return – and in support of the Islamist dominated opposition.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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