Experts debate Turkey's role in anti-ISIL coalition
Turkey foreign minister hints that Ankara will co-operate, but some experts call for tougher action.
By Zeynep Cermen for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 16/09/14
As NATO assembles a global coalition to confront the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), experts said Turkey's role will be crucial, given its lengthy borders with Iraq and Syria as well as its influential position in regional politics.
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (left), talks with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a bilateral meeting on the second day of the NATO 2014 Summit at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, South Wales, on September 5th. [AFP]
A Kurdish peshmerga fighter takes aim during clashes with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. [AFP]
A NATO statement earlier this month called for a "co-ordinated international approach" to ISIL, saying the group "poses a grave threat to the Iraqi people, to the Syrian people, to the wider region, and to our nations."
"If the security of any ally is threatened, we will not hesitate to take all necessary steps to ensure our collective defence," the NATO statement said.
At a meeting in Saudi Arabia last week, 10 Middle Eastern countries signed a joint communique declaring a "shared commitment to stand united against the threat posed by all terrorism." Turkey was at the meeting, but did not sign the communique, according to media reports.
Turkey's stance on the evolving international coalition has been ambiguous, due in part to its concerns for the dozens of diplomats who were taken hostage in Mosul by ISIL in June, according to analysts.
Faced with criticism for being slow to confront ISIL, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters that Ankara would support NATO efforts.
"NATO's mission is to struggle against dangers and threats in the Europe-Atlantic region and in the world. This determination has been presented by all countries, leaders, politicians and ministers," Cavusoglu told reporters during a recent trip to Antalya.
Experts who spoke to SES Türkiye called on Ankara to back the international efforts while acknowledging Turkey's security concerns.
According to Can Kasapoglu, who holds a doctorate from the Turkish War College and is a security expert at the Istanbul-based EDAM think-tank, Turkey faces a difficult decision.
"If Turkey remains inactive, it means that it will miss a lot of opportunities in the international arena. Up until now, NATO has approved all of Turkey's requests. When Turkey asked for Patriot missiles against any possible missile attack from Syria, NATO immediately supplied the Patriots," Kasapoglu told SES Türkiye. Turkey's support for NATO's campaign will now be very important, according to Kasapoglu.
"Under such a crisis, if Turkey doesn't provide help to its allies, then when will it be useful?" he said.
Kasapoglu added that Turkey faces more severe dangers than other NATO members, including a porous border and possible ISIL sleeper cells in Turkish cities. Support for military action could invite retaliation from ISIL, he said.
Most analysts expect Turkey to support the coalition's efforts by blocking the flow of foreign jihadists to Syria and by providing humanitarian support. In a statement issued following a conference in Paris on September 15th, representatives of EU member states, Arab countries and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council pledged to support the Iraqi government against ISIL.
"All participants underscored the urgent need to remove [ISIL] from the regions in which it has established itself in Iraq," the statement said, according to Reuters. "To that end, they committed to supporting the new Iraqi government in its fight against [ISIL], by any means necessary, including appropriate military assistance."
Murat Bilhan, Turkey's former ambassador to Ethiopia and former consul general to Libya, said Turkey is obliged to act in tandem with NATO.
"It is not possible for Turkey to take action separately. If it does, then the consequences will be very heavy," he said, adding that most European countries support international action against ISIL.
"In Europe there are many countries like Italy, France, Spain and Germany which are ready to take part in the operations against ISIL as many of their citizens keep joining the organisation," he said. "They want this because they are losing blood." There is domestic political support for Turkish action against ISIL even as experts debate the possible risks. The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) said Turkey should abide by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's principle: "Peace at home, peace in the world."
Umut Oran, a CHP member of the Turkey-EU Joint Parliamentary Committee, said Turkey has to gain the confidence of its allies and should play a constructive role in anti-ISIL efforts.
"By all means, including the military operations option, the international community should take actions against ISIL and stop the genocides," he told SES Türkiye, referring to ISIL's brutal attacks on minority communities in Syria and Iraq, including Yezidis.
Turkey could provide support by opening Incirlik air base in Adana, experts agreed.
"In that sense Turkey's support would be very important," Kasapoglu said. "ISIL forces are mobile targets. The targets appear suddenly. In order to hit mobile targets, planes have to be in the air for long time period. So they need an air base near the region."
He added that Turkish armed forces have the ability to take part in such an operation.
"Our air forces are used to cross-border operations," Kasapoglu said. How do you think Turkey should participate in the anti-ISIL coalition? Share your thoughts in the comments area.