January 16, 2016


ISIS just messed with the wrong Islamic country (Shikha Dalmia, January 15, 2016, The Week)

ISIS's November terrorist attack in Paris might have made a bigger splash around the world, but its Istanbul attack Tuesday might actually prove its undoing. That's because it might finally persuade Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who commands the second largest NATO army after America, to stop playing footsie with this noxious outfit and start dealing with it.

This was not ISIS's first hit-job on Turkish soil -- nor the bloodiest. The 10 lives it claimed -- mostly German tourists -- were less than the 30 killed in a July attack in Suruc, a town in the southeast, or the 100 killed in an October attack in Ankara, the national capital. (No one took responsibility for the Ankara attack but it was widely considered to have ISIS fingerprints). But the big difference is that ISIS's bombings in Turkey have largely targeted its Kurdish minority whose nationalistic insurgency Erdogan considers a mortal threat. Suruc is a Kurd-dominated town and the Ankara attack went after a pro-Kurdish rally. So it was convenient for Erdogan to look the other way.

But even before the latest bombing, turning a blind eye was getting harder to do. Now it will be nearly impossible.

...is that it forces every contradiction in the Islamic world.

Turkey cannot effectively fight ISIS unless it makes peace with the Kurds (Ömer Taşpınar, 1/14/16, Brookings)

On the one hand, Ankara has hardened its stance against ISIS by opening the airbase at Incirlik in southern Turkey for use by the U.S-led coalition targeting the organization with air strikes. However, Erdogan doesn't fully support the eradication of jihadist groups in Syria. The reason is simple: the Arab and Turkmen Islamist groups are the main bulwark against the expansion of the de facto autonomous Kurdish enclave in northern Syria. The AKP is concerned that the expansion and consolidation of a Kurdish state in Syria would both strengthen the PKK and further fuel similar aspirations amongst Turkey's own Kurds.

Will the most recent ISIS terrorist attack in Istanbul change anything in Turkey's main threat perception? When will the Turkish government finally realize that the jihadist threat in the country needs to be prioritized? If you listen to Erdogan's remarks, you will quickly realize that the real enemy he wants to fight is still the PKK. He tries hard after each ISIS attack to create a "generic" threat of terrorism in which all groups are bundled up together without any clear references to ISIS. He is trying to present the PKK as enemy number one.

Under such circumstances, Turkish society will remain deeply polarized between Islamists, secularists, Turkish nationalists and Kurdish rebels. Terrorist attacks, such as the one in Istanbul this week and the one in Ankara in July that killed more than 100 people, will only exacerbate these divisions.

Finally, it is important to note that the Turkish obsession with the Kurdish threat has also created a major impasse in Turkish-American relations in Syria. Unlike Ankara, Washington's top priority in Syria is to defeat ISIS. The fact that U.S. strategy consists of using proxy forces such as Syrian Kurds against ISIS further complicates the situation.

There will be no real progress in Turkey's fight against ISIS unless there is a much more serious strategy to get Ankara to focus on peace with the PKK. Only after a peace process with Kurds will Turkey be able to understand that ISIS is an existential threat to national security.

Posted by at January 16, 2016 11:09 AM