Turkish authorities confirmed that the perpetrators of the suicide attack on Istanbul airport are members of ISIS and came from the Syrian province of Raqqa, the headquarters of the “caliphate”.
If ISIS was really the mastermind, what was its motive? If Assad loyalists were behind the attacks, what do they want? And what are Turkey’s options in both cases?
Perhaps ISIS’ motive is retaliation for Turkey blocking its funding routes and stopping its fighters from crossing through Turkish territory. Other possible reasons are that Turkey is engaged in a war against ISIS in cooperation with the United States, and its reconciliation with Russia and Israel. They may also demand that their prisoners are released.
In the past, Turkey turned a blind eye to ISIS actions, and therefore the country was used as a main crossing. This has now changed. However, ISIS’ anger at Erdogan’s government does not justify the attack, and there is a long list of enemies that are more important as ISIS targets. Nevertheless, ISIS’ attack on Turkey will double its determination to hunt down its fighters and regard it as an enemy.
It is most likely that the terrorist organisation has been infiltrated. The evidence for this is that many of its activities are contrary to its ideology. ISIS carried out two attacks on two political units that are at odds with the Syrian regime. The first attack was carried out by eight suicide bombers on the Lebanese village of Al-Qaa on the Syrian border which is controlled by the Lebanese Forces party, an opponent of Assad’s regime. The second attack was carried out by three suicide bombers on Istanbul airport. ISIS attacking the Lebanese Forces is a contradiction as the organisation says it targets Assad and Hezbollah forces in that region. The involvement of eight suicide bombers in the Al-Qaa attacks, an area of limited relevance in the conflict, is odd and has not happened before.
The fact that Turkey has been targeted repeatedly promotes the narrative that ISIS has been infiltrated. Al-Qaeda used to work with the Assad regime when it was in Syria during its war against US forces in Iraq during the occupation period, and the organisation used to work with the Iraqi opposition and in coordination with Syrian regime agencies to target US forces in Iraq. When ISIS was born during the Syrian uprising, it came as an extension of Al-Qaeda. It fought different groups including the armed Syrian opposition like the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and a number of Islamic organisations engaged in combat. It also carried out attacks on the Syrian regime and its allies.
Despite the organisation’s ideological fanaticism, it does not mind cooperating with its opponents on the ground. Currently, it is working with the Assad regime against Turkey as part of the game to survive. It did this in Iraq where it collaborated with Baathist groups despite it accusing them of infidelity. It has also previously made trade deals with the Assad regime in Syria and sold oil to it after gaining control of the wells in Raqqa.
There are those who point the finger at the Russians and say that they are using terrorists to attack Turkey, but there is no convincing evidence for this. Perhaps Russia has the biggest interest in weakening Turkey. It has already threatened Erdogan’s government because it shot down a Russian plane and demanded that Turkey halt its cooperation with “terrorist organisations” (what it calls all armed groups fighting against its ally, the Assad regime). However, the Russians are not known to be skilful when it comes to infiltrating and using Islamic groups, as opposed to the Syrian regime which has thirty years of experience through its intelligence services which manage Palestinian, Lebanese and Islamic extremist religious groups.
There is no doubt that Turkish investigators are better able to determine who was behind the attack on Istanbul airport. Whether the mastermind behind the attacks is ISIS, the Assad regime’s intelligence services or its allies, it is in the Erdogan government’s interests not to abandon the Syrian Revolution. Rather, it should review its policy of separating from the FSA.
With the passing of time, the FSA has proven that in spite of the losses that it has experienced, it is the only Syrian group that deserves to be supported as it does not have a foreign agenda, unlike the rest of the opposition groups, such as Al-Nusra Front and Ahrar Al-Sham whose ideology does not differ greatly from that of ISIS, although they have not yet been involved in operations against Turkey and its allies.
It is in the interest of the Turks to pursue a military solution against Assad in order to reach an appropriate political solution between the regime and the opposition. Without military success, the chaos will continue because Assad’s broken regime is beyond repair.