By Claude Salhani
When the civil war began in earnest in Syria and outside forces started to interfere supporting one side or the other, Bashar Assad, at that point still a novice in the finer points of conducting war against one’s own people, issued a warning to the international community. Basically what he said was along the lines of hell would spread to the rest of the region if the civil war was allowed to continue.
It’s been a few years now since that statement and, sure enough, the war did spread, involving in one manner or another first Iraq, then Jordan, Lebanon and now Turkey.
Turkey’s involvement in the war in Syria began with refugees streaming over the border.
Turkey then found itself hosting Syrian opposition members, giving them safe houses and providing basic training for them in the hope that a quick settlement would follow the overthrow of the president in Syria and establish a stable government.
Then came the flow of jihadist fighters from Europe, who transited through Turkey to join the forces in Iraq and Syria.
The Turks also had to deal with periodic outbursts of violence from opposing factions who fled to the safety of Turkey, often pursued by exploding shells that found their way across the border.
More recently Turkey has found it harder to deal with the situation it has put itself in: that of supporting the opposition, supplying and defending it, supporting jihadists and, now, finding itself in their way.
A massive bomb exploded July 20th at a border crossing between Turkey and Syria, killing dozens and wounding nearly 100. Experts dealing with the current conflict say this was nary but a warning and that it’s only a matter of time before the inevitable happens — and Turkey finds itself confronting the jihadists.
Thanks to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policies, Turkey is in a rather delicate situation.
Turkey’s position is not enviable because of bad blood between Turkey’s then-prime minister — Erdogan — and Assad. Erdogan went on to become his country’s president, Assad went on to become leader of one Syrian faction.
Although Assad still holds the title of president, it is hard to consider him president of the entire country when, in fact, he controls less than half and represents even less. Some have taken to calling him Syria’s strongman but in fact that is hardly the case. It will be interesting to see how history will refer to him.
But let’s go back to Turkey where Erdogan had initially permitted potential recruits to cross his country to join the Islamic State (ISIS). Weapons were allowed to transit the country along with munitions and supplies. As we predicted in these very pages a few weeks ago, it was only a matter of time before ISIS began pointing its weapons at Turkey.
No doubt Turkey has found itself under tremendous pressure from its NATO allies to crack down on the jihadists. Turkey is left in a position of damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
If Erdogan sits back and allows such actions by jihadists to go unpunished, he’s only inviting more of the same. This is something Turkey cannot permit. If he chooses to crack down on the Islamists, he risks upsetting many of his fellow Sunni religionists and this is also something he cannot permit.
Once again Turkey’s saviour seems to be the military. The mess on the border between Turkey and Iraq and Turkey and Syria can only be cleaned up by the military. Well-equipped, well-armed, well-fed and generally a powerful army, considered the strongest in the Middle East, Turkey’s is probably the only military in the region that can take on ISIS.
The question, however, is whether the country’s politicians will be wise enough to step back for a moment and allow the military to clean up their mess.