Turkey is in the midst of a wave of terrorist attacks that will probably escalate as long as it remains a desirable target for jihadist groups, according to Boaz Ganor, founder and executive director of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Herzliya’s Interdisciplinary Study Center.
“The motivation for ISIS to attack Turkey is two-fold – one is on the operational level in that it’s easy to carry out attacks there because it’s a large country with a long, porous border with Syria where there are large amounts of foreign fighters and weapons moving, and there are also sleeper cells in towns and villages all over the country. So the ease itself becomes a motivator for attacks.”
The other motivation, according to Ganor, is what Turkey represents to jihadi groups like ISIS. He used an anecdote from a speech he gave a decade ago to a group of Turkish military commanders and politicians in Ankara a decade ago, in which he said that it is Turkey – not the US or Israel – that is the greatest threat to al-Qaida.
“Turkey shows that you can be pious Muslims and also open to the west and be a part of NATO and have moderate policies. This was the biggest threat to global terror, and that was true for al-Qaida and for ISIS. These terror attacks are very specifically against the idea of a Muslim alternative [to radical Islam].”
Ganor added that he believes that the reconciliation between Turkey and Israel
would be “on the margins of the margins” in regards to being a possible motivator for the attack, which he said most likely took months of planning, and was drawn up long before anyone could predict the Ankara-Jerusalem reconciliation.
He also said that while Turkey may draw on some assistance from Israeli security officials, “Turkey is quite well trained in dealing with terrorism, more so than many countries in the West.”
The repeated terror attacks in Turkey this past year can be seen as the result of dangerous policies enacted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the Turkish-Syria border, according to Yoram Schweitzer, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, and the head of the institute’s program on terrorism and low intensity conflict
“It’s obvious that the Turkish game of allowing Turkey to be a transit country for ISIS volunteers and fighters going to Syria would boomerang against them,” he said.
Allowing jihadists to pass through their border has combined with the ISIS world view that sees Turkey and other Muslims as infidels ripe for attack, Schweitzer said.
“According to the world view of ISIS, Erdogan and his countrymen are infidels. They don’t subscribe to the world view of ISIS and it was obvious that eventually they would target Turkey.”
Turkey – which already has its hands full fighting Kurdish separatists – has also joined international efforts against ISIS and has ties with the Obama administration, helping increase their appeal as a target, Schweitzer said.
He added that it’s safe to assume that ISIS is planning more and more attacks against targets in the West and that the international community needs to increase cooperation against them, and to continue the process of driving them back from land they have seized in Syria and Iraq.
Dr. Nimrod Goren, the head of Mitvim – The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, and a teaching fellow in Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that Turkey presents an appealing target for jihadists in that “at the moment they are on the side of the West and it’s much easier to attack in Istanbul than in Paris.”
He said that for Turkey, the dual threat of terrorism from Kurdish armed groups and jihadists from the Islamic State and other organizations threatens to disrupt the stability that in recent years has made the country something of an economic and political success story in the region, while also dealing a serious blow to their tourism industry.
He added that it’s hard to say what sort of violence the coming months will bring, but that recent violence in Turkey has highlighted the need for stronger coordination between Turkey and other Western countries, including Israel.
Uzi Dayan, a former IDF deputy chief of staff and head of the National Security Council, said that attacks like Tuesday night’s bombings are part of a global phenomenon and that “this is not just Turkey but also Brussels, Orlando, elsewhere. We need to understand that there is a world terror war going on.”
Dayan called for greater security cooperation between Israel and Turkey, and said that regarding Europe, “It will take time for them to understand that the war in the Middle East is a regional war, and they’re involved in it.”