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Turkey Moves Towards Military Action in Syria

Turkey has been accused of aiding militants by acting as a de facto transit hub for foreign fighters looking to wage jihad.

Written by Katarina Montgomery Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Turkey’s government edged closer to direct intervention in the conflict in Syria, seeking to authorize sending troops into Iraq and Syria and open its bases to foreign troops as a potential contribution to the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said that proposal would be wide enough “to avoid needing another parliamentary mandate for military action.”

Until now, Turkey has avoided direct involvement with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), though it has been accused of aiding militants by acting as a de facto transit hub for foreign fighters looking to wage jihad.

Here, Gokhan Bacik, an analyst and associate professor of international relations at Ankara’s Ipek University, weighs in on the potential for Turkey to broaden its powers to intervene in Syria.

Syria Deeply: What does the Turkish ISIS mandate include? Will it include sending troops?

Bacik: It is usually the case that the Turkish government brings the case to the parliament to get official endorsement for any type of military mission. This new text is mainly about developments in an area close to the Turkish border, so it is very a flexible text that enables the government to receive and send troops. The only difference is that it says nothing about the Assad regime, and if we exclude that difference it’s a typical text parliament gives the Turkish government about an area close to its border.

Syria Deeply: Why this move and why now?

Bacik: There is pressure on Ankara right now. Ankara has serious fears that a new status quo is emerging that will hurt its interests in the long term. It is attempting to increase its leverage legally and politically, and trying to be prepared for action, but I don’t think sending troops into Syria is very likely.

In the past the Turkish government got similar endorsements by the Turkish parliament, but they were not used. Sometimes the Turkish government does this to try and appease the public. For example, a year ago, when shells from Syria killed Turkish citizens, there was a similar move from parliament. This doesn’t necessarily mean the government will send troops, but this time is a little bit different because the Syrian public is seriously unhappy with ISIS and the rise of PKK-linked organizations in Turkish territory. The government believes and fears that the developments in the region might help the Kurdish [autonomy] issue.

The Turkish president and ministries in the government have recently changed their discourse on the PKK. They were more polite about PKK a couple months ago, but now are more vocal about it being a terrorist organization and have criticized the international community for only focusing on ISIS and neglecting the PKK.

Syria Deeply: What would be the tipping point that would push Turkey to take a more active role in Syria?

Bacik: Two events would change the whole course of events. One is a dramatic ISIS attack. The second is ongoing developments in the region that increase the pro-PKK status quo.

The PKK is gaining more supporters who used to be skeptical about it, because it is protecting people against ISIS. Ankara thinks that these developments are favoring the Kurds, so it might get involved more dramatically if the status quo continues to favor the PKK.

The Arab Spring is now turning into a Kurdish Spring. The peace process with the Kurds was formulated before the Arab Spring, the collapse of Syria, and before the rise of ISIS. Right now, PKK’s geopolitical thinking is changing. Turkey needs to change the basis of negotiations with the PKK, otherwise these developments will negatively effect the ongoing peace process with Kurds at home.

Syria Deeply: What are the challenges of a Turkish move into Syria?

Bacik: At this stage, the strikes against ISIS are by air. The U.S. strategy is to stop ISIS, to protect areas from ISIS, and not to send military troops. Part of that strategy is to find partners on the ground, other opposition groups to find ISIS. Turkey is now trying to adapt to this situation, and some people in Ankara think the coalition isn’t realistic for Turkey in the long run.

I’m not sure that the U.S. and Turkish strategies on ISIS are similar. The U.S. priority is to stop ISIS, the Turkish priority in regards to Syria is Kurdish oriented. I’m not sure if they will be able to harmonize their strategies. I’m not sure the U.S. would accept sending troops to Syria, so basically Ankara is trying to show that it is ready to protect Turkey because of the growing pressure it feels by the public. It remains to be seen if the U.S. and Turkey can formulate a common strategy on ISIS.

Syria Deeply: What are the potential consequences if Turkey makes such a move into Syria?

Bacik: If Ankara were to decide on larger military action, I’m not sure the international community would welcome it …[it] could have serious consequences from the Russians, Iranians, even NATO. Just to satisfy concerns from Ankara and the Turkish public, Turkey might carry out very small military actions, but not large-scale military action.

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