Turkey must oppose IS robustly

Turkey is no stranger to terrorist attacks having suffered a string of attacks over the past 18 months, with Istanbul alone accounting for four in 2016. Yet, when three suicide bombers opened fire on crowds at Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport on Tuesday and then detonated their suicide vests, it left Turkey and the world reeling in shock. Tuesday’s attack is the deadliest attack ever on an airport; around 41 people were killed and another 239 are injured, several of them critically. The needle of suspicion points in the direction of the Islamic State (IS) group, which is believed to have carried out several attacks in Turkey in recent months. The spectacular attack could have been aimed at raising sagging morale among IS fighters following the militia’s territorial losses in Iraq and Syria. Turkey is likely to have been targeted by IS in retaliation for its participation in recent months in bombing raids on IS-controlled territory in Syria.

It is only recently that Turkey turned anti-IS. Even this opposition is rather ambivalent and came under massive international pressure. Turkey’s priority has been ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It has provided various opposition groups, including the IS with tacit support. It backed the IS as the latter is fiercely anti-Kurds. Ankara saw in IS an opportunity to not only topple Assad but also weaken the Kurds. It saw the IS as a bulwark against the rise of Kurds in the region. In its preoccupation with breaking the Kurds’ backbone, Turkey wilfully ignored the IS threat. It limited its cooperation with international efforts to defeat the IS group and refrained from cracking down on Turkish businessmen, who are purchasing oil from the IS and thus financing its war. With the attack on Istanbul airport, the chickens have come home to roost; this is a case of blowback from Turkey’s short-sighted policies.

It is time that Turkey became more resolute in its opposition to the IS. Ankara’s relations with Russia and Israel have resumed. So cooperation with the anti-IS coalition
should not be difficult. This may make it vulnerable to more attacks but over the long term, Turkey will be securing its people. The attack on Istanbul airport is an important wake up call for Turkey’s leaders. Hitherto, President Recep Erodogan has played to the Islamist gallery by not cracking down on religious extremism that is surging along Turkey’s southern border. He must not turn a blind eye to this any longer. Additionally, he needs to end the long-running war against the Kurds. This would enable him to focus on fighting religious radicals and jihadis who pose a bigger threat to Turkey.

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