Turkey in Syria: Just how influential will we be?

The fact that the barbaric organization named the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has become the main player in the world’s terror situation lends an air of legitimacy now to the presence of so many global actors in Syria. This was an inevitable result of this particular angle to the story.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, France declared that it viewed the massacre as an “act of war,” with which it became more involved than it ever had in the international coalition against ISIL.

As it is, the US is already at the helm of said coalition, for the same reasons recently stated by France. And as other European countries ramp up their own security precautions against possible ISIL acts, they have also increased their expressions of how much importance they place on removing ISIL from the world scene.

From the very start, Russia has supported Bashar al-Assad’s regime. But now, Russian warplanes have begun to play a role in the air that looks set to change the direction the war is taking in Syria. With Russian bombing, Assad’s forces are taking up new and more powerful positions in the face of ISIL and other opposition groups.

The increased involvement and side-taking by global powers in Syria has resulted in the reduced importance and clout for regional actors in that war-torn country. Interestingly, while countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey maintain their economic and military support for forces opposing Assad, they are not in the position to direct or shape the new developments that we are now seeing.

And then there is also the Iran factor. Tehran plays a huge role in Assad’s general ability to resist and carry on. And with Russia entering the arena, Iran’s support has become even more important for Assad. And this is because the priority for the US and its allies right now is the destruction of ISIL.

Russia’s priority is also the destruction of ISIL and other opposition groups, but so that Assad can regain his footing. And this is where the interests of the US and Russia overlap: the destruction of ISIL.

For the countries that prioritize seeing Assad and his regime toppled, there is no desire to leave the international coalition, though their stance is “we are opposed to both ISIL and Assad.” But still, these countries (as listed above) are far from being influential partners within this coalition.

This describes Turkey’s situation perfectly.

Until last year, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) avoided taking up a strong, clear stance against ISIL. The reason for this was that Ankara was driven more by the desire to see Assad toppled than by any motivation against ISIL. And in fact, the AKP even supplied assistance to opposition groups on Syrian soil — including, it should be noted, to ISIL — with the reason “All we want is to get rid of Assad.” Through this all, more people flowed in through Turkey to join ISIL’s ranks than through any other country around Syria. The Turkish security forces turned a blind eye to the comfortable comings and goings of ISIL militants in the border areas between Syria and Turkey. What’s more, some wounded militants — including ISIL’s — even slipped into Turkey to receive medical treatment.

Even now, with the entire world united in its hatred of ISIL, AKP leaders are unable to form clear and precise expressions of condemnation when it comes to this organization. And when it came to statements made in the wake of the Ankara massacre, AKP notables mentioned ISIL only within the larger context of other terror groups.

In the end, those in Ankara who have been so busy making calculations about the post-Assad era in Syria appear to be the same people who have effectively prevented Turkey from adopting an influential role in the new balances of this vital region.

Apparently, this is what we now call “effective foreign policy.”


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