Turkey -- preventing Kurdish independence at all costs
In an effort to distance the Kurds from the Turkish border, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan found the perfect solution: A war against the Islamic State group • When it comes to Turkish military actions, always look for the Kurdish angle.
Turkey launched an unprecedented attack on Syria Wednesday in an effort to liberate the town of Jarablus from the clutches of the Islamic Sate group and to distance terrorists from its borders to prevent future attacks on Turks. This is the official version. But there are, of course, additional reasons behind Turkey's most significant action in Syria since the beginning of the civil -- and religious -- war there, which has now entered its sixth year. When it comes to Turkish military operations, always look for the Kurdish angle.
Since Turkey entered the fighting in Syria in the summer of 2015, when it allowed coalition forces to use its Incirlik air base in the country's south, it has been focused on the Kurdish underground fighters. Islamic State was never a main target. Moreover, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's regime had a perverse policy when it came to Islamic State. He never saw the jihadi terrorists as a threat, but rather as an opportunity.
Erdogan viewed the Islamic State terrorists as mercenaries who would attack the Kurds instead of him. He wasn't even concerned when Islamic State operatives began running around Turkey. The Turkish intelligence services noted that in January, 2015, there were 3,000 of them in Turkey. The border between Turkey and Syria served as a porous sieve for Islamic State members. Ankara turned into the jihad highway.
If anyone has any doubt regarding Erdogan's clear preference of Islamic State over the Kurds, they are welcome to bring to mind the difficult events of October, 2014 in the Kurdish city of Kobani in Syria. Islamic State massacred the poor Kurds while Erdogan's army watched on the sidelines in complete indifference just across the border. Erdogan was convinced at the time that he could accommodate Islamic State -- that is, until the terrorist attacks began and Islamic State gunfire and rockets began crossing the Syrian border into Turkey.
The most recent attacks, especially the one at Ataturk Airport at the end of June, made it clear to the Turks that Islamic State had crossed the border. But Turkey was still willing to show restraint. It may have even refrained from retaliating for the attack on the Kurdish wedding in Gaziantep, in which 54 people had been killed, if the Kurdish YPG militia had not begun to take control over swathes of territory near the Turkish border.
If the Turks have a red line, it is the establishment -- or even the potential establishment -- of an independent Kurdish entity. The Turks cannot accept it. In an effort to distance the Kurds from their border, and with the consent of the American patron of the Kurds in Syria, Ankara found the perfect solution: a war against the Islamic State group.
The war on Islamic State has amazing effects: It can unite the Americans and the Turks, the Kurds and the Syrian rebels, the Russians and the Americans, the Americans and the Iranians, and even the Russians and the Turks. What would we do without Islamic State? One could even say that the war on Islamic State saved Syrian President Bashar Assad to a certain extent.
Turkey is in the midst of an ongoing conflict with the Kurds within its territory. Ankara's biggest nightmare is a contiguous stretch of Kurdish territory in northern Syria and Iraq. This Turkish zone already took shape in 2014 and was considered to be one of Erdogan's biggest failures. Wednesday's operation, "Euphrates Shield," could also be called "Shield Against the Kurds." The United States is prepared to cooperate with the Turks on the condition that the Islamic State group be taken down. That is the only way to interpret U.S. Vice President Biden's call on the Kurdish militias not to advance west of the Euphrates.
The fall of the city of Manbij, near the Turkish border, into Kurdish hands on Aug. 12, prompted the Turks to prevent the capture of more towns by the YPG, which is tied to the PKK.
There is no doubt that the protracted war in Syria has shuffled the deck in the region, perhaps more than once: The Turkish operation comes at a time when Ankara has normalized relations with Moscow, stepped up relations with Tehran and even reconciled with Israel. The current cooling of ties between Turkey and a number of Western capitals that were not quick to condemn the attempted coup in Ankara last month could explain Turkey's reconciliation with Russia and Iran.
Turkey, like several other countries, has many interests in Syria. It understands that it likely will not be able to overthrow Assad now, so it has joined those who are protecting him -- Russia and Iran. But this is not a natural coalition. The connection forged with Washington during the operation on Wednesday also wasn't necessarily natural.
In our Middle East, there is no love, only interests. The Turks have one clear interest: preventing an independent Kurdish entity. They will get what they want in exchange for a war on the Islamic State group.