One thing that’s new in the old 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 territories as routes 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 not unaware that hundreds of those passing through it towards Syria belong to jihadist groups that are in line with al-Qaeda organization. But they claimed to be ignorant by using the excuse that around half a million Syrians also crossed the borders and that it's difficult to examine everyone entering or exiting this grey zone.
Recent developments however have proved to the Turks that the al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and al-Nusra Front have aims that go beyond toppling the Assad regime.
The Turks felt that they were carrying a scorpion that will sting them later just like it stung its previous allies before them. News that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant 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 shut the gate in their face. This drove the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to shell Turkish posts. Turkey thus responded by shelling locations of the terrorist groups. Therefore, the war fronts have taken on three different facets: the Syrian regime’s front, the opposition's front and al-Qaeda groups' front.
Who’s fighting on whose side?
The significance of the aggressive Turkish stance against extremist Islamist groups is that it corrects the wrong idea about both Syria and Turkey. One of the biggest mistakes committed by Syrian rebels at a moment of frustration is their belief that it doesn't matter who fights the Syrian regime as long as they fight on their side. It was a belief based on the concept stipulating that their enemy's enemy is their friend. The Syrian regime realized right away that the game 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 significance of the aggressive Turkish stance against extremist Islamist groups is that it corrects the wrong idea about both Syria and Turkey.Abdulrahman al-Rashed
The Turks realized that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is nothing more than a destructive terrorist group which is not less evil than the Kurdistan Workers' Party which they've been fighting for decades. Recent violent events showed how the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and al-Nusra Front succeeded at breaking the backbone of the Syrian revolution on the local military level and on the international political level. This was further achieved by the Assad regime's propaganda, which disseminated that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is mere 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 towards the Turkish stance, we 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.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Oct. 20, 2013.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.