One thing that’s new in the Syrian crisis is that Turkey has for the first time decided to fight the two most dangerous armed groups on Syrian territory. Why have the Turks decided to open fire on extremist Islamist parties after they’ve granted them refuge and munitions? It must be a new Turkish policy adopted following the old one of overlooking these groups’ activity on its borders.
These groups used Turkish territory as supply bases and funding stations while Turkish authorities overlooked the passage of extremists and the transfer of arms, as long as these acts served the aim of fighting the Syrian regime. The Turks were aware that hundreds of those passing through their state towards Syria belonged to jihadist groups that are affiliated with Al-Qaeda. But they pleaded ignorance, using the excuse that around half a million Syrians also crossed the borders and that it is difficult to examine everyone entering or exiting.
Recent developments, however, have proved to the Turks that the Al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Al-Nusra Front have aims that go beyond toppling the Assad regime.
The Turks felt that they were carrying a scorpion that will come to sting them, just like it stung its previous allies before them. News that ISIS attacked, murdered and kidnapped members of Free Syrian Army brigades was widely condemned inside and outside Syria. Therefore, the Turks had no other choice but to slam the door in their face. This drove the ISIS to shell Turkish posts. Turkey responded by shelling locations of the terrorist groups. Consequently, the fighting has splintered into three separate conflicts: the Syrian regime’s front, the opposition’s front, and the front of Al-Qaeda groups.
The significance of the aggressive Turkish stance against extremist Islamist groups is that it corrects inaccurate views in both Syria and Turkey. One of the biggest mistakes committed by Syrian rebels in their moment of frustration is their belief that it does not matter who fights the Syrian regime as long as they fight on their side. It was a belief based on the old aphorism that their enemy’s enemy is their friend. The Syrian regime realized right away that the tactic of distorting the Syrian revolution and turning it into one about terrorist groups will bring it victory after it turns the world against it. The Syrian regime has previously done this in Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine. It used extremist groups by managing alliances in order to serve its aims.
The Turks realized that the ISIS is nothing more than a destructive terrorist group. It is no less harmful than the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that they’ve been fighting for decades. Recent violent events showed how the degree of success ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front have achieved at breaking the backbone of the Syrian revolution on the local military level and on the international, political level. This was assisted by the Assad regime’s propaganda, though which it labelled the Free Syrian Army (FSA) as a collection of criminal gangs. Therefore, the regime’s forces achieved huge progress in many areas.
Considering its massive military capabilities, a 900-kilometer border with Syria, and the huge appreciation felt by the Syrian people for the Turkish government’s support, I believe that Turkey is capable of playing a big role in finalizing the struggle in Syria and toppling the Assad regime. The Turks can correct their stance not only by banning extremist groups on Turkish territory, but also by supporting the FSA and helping it organize itself, and by not supporting groups that don’t belong to the FSA.