Turkey and the Dangerous Game of Playing ISIS Trump

Monday, October 13, 2014

Interview with Ja'far Haghpanah
By: Saeid Jafari

As most analysts had already predicted, air strikes against the positions taken by the ISIS terrorist group have failed to deal serious blows to this group and now the Kurdish town of Kobani in Syria is on the verge of falling into the hands of the ISIS. The fall of this town will further increase the strategic depth of this group and will make it more difficult for international community to put an end to the Islamic State declared by this group. In the following interview, Dr. Ja'far Haghpanah, an assistant professor of regional studies at the University of Tehran, believes that Turkey has embarked on a very dangerous game as the government in Ankara is seemingly trying to use the ISIS as a weapon against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the incumbent government of Syria. The full text of the interview follows.

Q: Developments related to Kobani town in Syria’s Kurdish region have taken a dangerous turn and the areas have almost fallen to the ISIS. However, the main issue which has made the developments in Kobani more important is the rivalry between the government of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as a result of which Kobani is now facing the ISIS threat alone. What is your opinion about the overall situation in this region?

A: As you said, developments in Syria’s Kurdish region have turned into an arena for the political rivalry among all major powers in the region. This situation is to some extent related to the issue of Kurds and the balance of power among major regional players in which every player is trying to play a role in this crisis. By doing this, they are trying to firstly reduce domestic threats to their own interests. Secondly, they want their rivals to bear the brunt of possible threats and dangers involved in this situation. And thirdly, they are looking for opportunities to improve their own conditions. This trend applies as much to the Syria’s Kurdish region as it does to the Iraqi Kurdistan and we can consider it an effort to strike a comprehensive balance of powers; a balance, which enjoys a theoretical framework as well.

The government of the Kurdistan region is trying to appear as a full-fledged nation-state in Syria. Therefore, it is following the current policy in a bid to make other players treat it as an independent state. Turkey, on the other hand and as a regional player, is trying to make the most of the ongoing developments in Syria in favor of its own interests and expediencies. This is why both the government in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and the government in Ankara feel threatened by increasing power of Syria’s Kurdish region and rising influence of the PKK as well as its offshoot in Syria, that is, the Democratic Union Party (Kurdish: PYD). As a result, both parties feel a common threat posed to them which is further empowerment of Kurds in Syria. Consequently, the ISIS Takfiri group is offered with a very good opportunity to serve as a means of putting down that threat. Of course, this approach is mostly followed by the Turkish government, which seems to be oblivious to the fact that strengthening of the ISIS can be followed by an increased risk of growing religious terrorism as well as religious extremism across the region.

Q: The Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had previously made remarks to the effect that Turkey would not allow Kobani to fall into the hands of the ISIS and the Turkish parliament even went as far as authorizing the government to carry out direct military operations against the ISIS. What is your opinion about the incongruity between Turkish officials’ remarks and actions?

A: These remarks stem from the fact that Turkey has reached the conclusion that it can use the ISIS and its Islamic State as a weapon to destroy its archenemy, the PKK, which is a priority for Turkey. In doing so, it seems that the Turkish statesmen are not taking the ISIS threat very seriously yet. There is another issue which further proves that Turkey is in cahoots with the ISIS. How come that in case of even the least amount of commotion along their borders, Turks showed the strongest reaction, but now and despite all the tension and conflict quite close to their southern border, the Turkish army is doing nothing? In reality, Turkey has entered a very dangerous and adventurist game because it thinks that it can currently interact with the Islamic State because the Turkish government does not believe that the risk posed by the ISIS is too serious. Or perhaps they think that if needed, they would be able to effectively control this group in the future.

Q: Therefore, do you really believe that Turkey is using the ISIS as a tool? Won’t this mentality cause problems for Turkey in the future?

A: Basically speaking, every country’s foreign policy relies on three main tools: diplomacy, war and intelligence. Turkey’s main approach to this issue is a kind of intelligence war. In other words, Turkish officials are trying to find a third way by using their intelligence service, and that third way is to cooperate with the extremist and radical currents in the region. This is, of course, a new development in Turkey’s foreign policy. In fact, Turks have reached the conclusion that they should use a different tool now that they cannot launch a proxy war as Iran does. The Islamic Republic has been able to pursue its interests by taking good advantage of such political groups as the Palestinian Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah in addition to Shia groups in Iraq. Turks, however, do now have this capacity. As a result, they have reached the conclusion that they must resort to the ISIS and its destructive approach in pursuit of their own goals and interests. They are, as such, bent on using this group as a means of increasing their influence in the region. This is a very dangerous game that Turks have gotten involved in.

Q: The question is since the ISIS has projected a negative international image, don’t you think that this dangerous game could deal drastic blows to credibility and prestige of Turkey both at regional and global levels?

A: This is exactly correct. Turkey has started late and wants its efforts to bear fruit as soon as possible. In reality, however, Turkey’s adventurism has been both costly and troublesome for Iran and Syria up to the present time without having helped Ankara to reap remarkable benefits. Such adventurism has even incurred software losses on Turkey and has created great doubts both at regional and international levels as to the true intent of Turkey. In the meantime, this is not the first time that such doubts have been surrounding Turkey’s policies. As a result, one can conclude that there is serious global suspicion about true intensions of turkey. It is noteworthy that for a country that relies heavily on tourism for the lion’s share of its annual revenues, such an approach and such global suspicion is sure to have detrimental effects.

Q: It was predictable from the very beginning that measures taken by the United States and its allies for fighting the ISIS would not be very effective and this has been proven in practice. Casualties and losses sustained by the ISIS as a result of those attacks have been unremarkable. Will this situation make any effort made to fight this terrorist group even more complicated and difficult?

A: It should be noted that the ISIS has greatly changed after the occupation of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. After capturing Mosul, the Islamic State has greatly expanded its financial and other resources. On the other hand, in view of the vast swathes of land they have already captured [in Iraq and Syria], the group is no more suffering from limitation of space and can easily move from one location to another. As a result, the vulnerability of the group has greatly reduced compared to when they were in control of limited places. Therefore, it would be very simplistic to assume that the group can be annihilated or limited through air strikes alone. In reality, as I told you before, the situation has become too complicated as a consequence of which controlling the ISIS and eradication of extremism has become very difficult. This problem will not be solved unless by assigning suitable roles to effective players in the region combined with serious international resolve.

Key Words: Turkey, Dangerous Game, ISIS, Kobani, Syria, Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Democratic Union Party, Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkish Parliament, Extremism, Haghpanah

Source: Khabaronline News Website
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

More By Ja'far Haghpanah:

*ISIS Crisis and Future Scenarios for Iraq:

*Afghan Presidential Election and Possible Impact on Tehran-Kabul Ties:

*Photo Credit: The Guardian

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