After last month's border attack, some hard Syrian lessons for Ankara, which has finally opened a key air base for attacks against ISIS positions.
ANKARA — When ISIS launched its Suruc assault by that killed 32 near the Syrian border last month, it was the clearest sign that the Islamist terror group poses a much greater threat to Turkey than it does to the West.
The anti-ISIS coalition led by the United States has been trying to make Turkey see this fact for some time now, pressing Ankara to allow the Incirlik Air Base to be used against ISIS. So Turkey has now been dragged into the coalition, demanding conditions along the way to protect what it sees as its own national interests.
What were these conditions? Has the U.S. agreed? First, Turkey has asked the Obama administration to target the Assad regime as much as ISIS, and declare a no-fly zone in Syria. Although it was not openly voiced during the Incirlik negotiations, another demand on the US has been that Washington end its cooperation with the forces of the PYD and YPG Syrian Kurds.
Back in May, I asked a Pentagon official what compromises the Obama Administration could offer in return for the permit to use the Incirlik base. He responded: "Why should we have to compromise for protecting Turkey and the world from a murderous gang like ISIS? Turkey houses nearly two million Syrian refugees within its borders. Salafist groups are acting freely in Turkey. Turkey shares a long border with Syria. It is clear that ISIS is posing a greater threat to Turkey than it does to America. Turkey should have opened Incirlik for use by the anti-ISIS coalition a long time ago without demanding any preconditions."
It turns out Turkey needed a new tragedy to take the necessary steps against a terrorist group, finally now agreeing to open the Incirlik base for use to combat ISIS. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and the pro-government media of Turkey say the Incirlik decision is a result of overcoming the differences between America and Turkey, even if those differences clearly still exist.
There is no fundamental change in the U.S. policy towards Syria in the face of Ankara's demands. The Obama administration still has no intentions to target the Assad regime, with Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis saying that a political solution in Syria is still the objective. Washington, moreover, does not seem to have changed its stance on the "no-fly zone" that Ankara had demanded, opting instead for a much smaller commitment as a "safe zone." The coalition forces have already been bombing ISIS targets in Syria, and will continue to do so.
Another reason for tension between Turkey and the U.S. was Washington's cooperation with the Kurdish troops in combating ISIS in Syria. Some have reported that Washington will end the cooperation, or might even ban the PYD's presence in the "safe zone." However, there is no proof for such claims, openly denied by State Department Spokesperson John Kirby who said "air support will continue" for the Kurdish forces in Syria, among the most effective in fighting ISIS.
In short, there is no change in the U.S. policy on Syria to satisfy Turkey. Ankara has been using Incirlik as a bargaining chip, but it is hard to say that Turkey got what it wanted after delaying the opening of the base for so long. Thirty-two young people paid the ultimate price of this delay.