By Lale Kemal
27 March 2014
Two separate incidents that have taken place inside Turkey in a week that involved acts of terrorism originating from Syria, as well as the Turkish downing of a Syrian fighter, have increased the potential for this NATO member country to be dragged into the Syrian quagmire of a three-year-long civil war.
These incidents have also reconfirmed a conception that Turkey has been paying the price for its ill-conceived policies as regards this southern neighbour, as Jihadists have come back to Turkish territory to bite the hand that fed them.
In fact, one of three terrorists who were caught after they staged an attack in the Central Anatolian town of Niğde this past week, killing two security officials and a civilian and who entered Turkey via Syria, was describing Turkey, a predominantly Muslim nation, during his first court hearing, as an enemy due to its NATO membership and an infidel. Çendrim Ramadi further stated during his hearing last Tuesday that he has performed a meritorious action by killing a Turkish gendarme.
The terrorists were identified as Kosovars and Macedonians who have been fighting alongside al-Qaeda-linked terrorists in Syria.
In another incident in Istanbul, on Tuesday, March 25, gunmen linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), fighting in Syria, opened fire in Istanbul’s Ümraniye district, wounding three police officers, when counterterrorism units raided an address suspected of being a cell hosting ISIL fighters.
Both incidents have clearly demonstrated that the infiltration of terrorists into Turkey from Syria either to stage terrorist attacks inside this country or to flee to third countries, have been on the rise as they have begun feeling the heat from the Syrian regime's offensive, which has intensified in particular in areas next to the Turkish border.
Another danger awaiting Turkey is a possibility that members of the more moderate Syrian opposition Free Syrian Army, which Ankara has long backed against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, may deliberately create a situation to drag Turkey into the Syrian conflict as their days are numbered in the fight against the Assad regime.
Extreme Islamic radical groups such as the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra or ISIL are among the groups mainly fighting against the Assad regime forces in the ongoing power struggle within Syria.
Backed by Russia and China, members of the United Nations Security Council, as well as Iran, the Assad regime has currently appeared to have been the winner of the ongoing civil war. Squeezed by the Assad forces, Jihadists are forced to flee via Turkey, and on their way to a third country, they have been staging terrorist activities, as has been the case with the one in Niğde.
Turkey has been paying the price for its policy of siding with the Syrian opposition as well as for its suspected support to the Jihadists, with the hope that they will defeat the Assad regime.
Instead of choosing sides in the Syrian civil war, Turkey should have pursued a more balanced policy refraining from turning the Assad regime into its number one enemy.
The Turkish F-16's downing of a Syrian MiG-23 over the past weekend has, in the meantime, demonstrated that there has been an increased risk for Turkey to be drawn into the Syrian conflict. This is because the intensified fighting taking place inside Syria next to the Turkish border region has the potential to bring Turkish and Syrian fighters closer to each other more frequently than before, risking similar incidents to the downing of the plane over the past weekend.
Added to the concern is the tension in Turkey that has stemmed from government attempts to foil the high-profile corruption and bribery scandal.
There are speculations that the Turkish military could have avoided downing the Syrian fighter, even if it briefly violated Turkish airspace, if it had not received orders to down it from the government. The opposition parties have been blaming Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in particular, for triggering the downing of the Syrian jet ahead of local elections on March 30, this Sunday; to distract attention from the major graft probe that allegedly implicated himself and his family, too.
In fact, Erdoğan announced the downing of the Syrian aircraft at an election rally, congratulating the military on its success, which has strengthened speculations that the downing of the Syrian fighter might have been another attempt to distract the Turkish public from the graft scandal ahead of the local elections.
The fact that Syrian fighting has intensified in areas close to the Turkish border region, raising the potential of the Turkish and Syrian fighters' frequent encounters and claims that the government may exploit the Syrian civil war for political gain, carry a danger that Turkey may this time find itself being dragged into the Syrian conflict.