Time for Turks to take ISIS threat seriously

For months, Turkey had been preparing assiduously to host the G-20 summit of the world's leading economies in the Mediterranean resort town of Antalya, but the Paris attacks cast a shadow over the gathering.

French President Francois Hollande cancelled his visit, while the attacks that killed nearly 130 civilians dominated the summit agenda. In a joint statement, world leaders vowed to join efforts to boost the fight against terrorism and tackle the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The Paris attacks - inspired and directed by ISIS - are indicative of a larger threat against the West. The attacks reinforced the fear that ISIS, long considered a distant threat, could be lurking in Europe's most affluent neighborhoods. Paris is a stark reminder that ISIS must be dealt with immediately before it is too late.

Both Turkey's allies in the West and critics in the country question Ankara's commitment to anti-ISIS efforts, and not without reason.

Mahir Zeynalov

In Antalya, U.S. President Barack Obama said the narrative that ISIS developed of creating a caliphate made it "more attractive" to potential recruits. Beating them in Iraq and Syria would undermine the illusion that it was a functioning state, which would reduce the flow of foreign fighters. Obama added that this would lessen the number of terrorists who could potentially carry out attacks similar to those in Paris.

Turkish stance

Where does Turkey stand in this fight? As the host of the G-20 summit, Turkey had a number of issues to discuss with world leaders. The Paris attacks, however, dominated the agenda, pushing leaders to further tighten the noose around ISIS.

Kurdish militants have liberated territories along the border with Turkey without Ankara's blessing. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly criticized Washington for aiding Kurdish militants, and has refused to help them drive ISIS from the border.

This week, Ankara and Washington said they were on the brink of a major offensive against ISIS. Turkey's primary goal is to deny Kurds these territories. "All they want is to seize northern Syria entirely," Erdogan said last month. "We will under no circumstances allow northern Syria to become a victim of their scheming. We are very determined in this regard."

However, Turkey is very vulnerable to major ISIS attacks. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu acknowledged that ISIS militants are freely wandering in the country. Turkish authorities round up dozens of potential militants in nationwide raids, but most of them are released on grounds that there is no evidence linking them to possible attacks. Failures in Turkish intelligence resulted in two suicide bombings in Suruc and Ankara, killing nearly 140 people in total.

These attacks were not enough to wake up Turkish society. Many people in Turkey, where conspiracy theories abound, still consider ISIS a creation of Israel or Western intelligence - an opinion even voiced by some Turkish officials.

Shamefully, Turkish fans booed and chanted slogans during a minute's silence for the victims of the Paris attacks during a football match in Istanbul between Turkey and Greece. The incident embarrassed Turkey, and went viral among Western news outlets. The question is whether the incident reflects the dominant thinking in Turkish society.

Both Turkey's allies in the West and critics in the country question Ankara's commitment to anti-ISIS efforts, and not without reason. Turkish clerics have failed to clearly condemn ISIS's toxic ideology, and the group has been tolerated because it initially stood as the most robust force against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkey's hands are now tied. It faces terrorist attacks at home and a notorious adversary on its border. A strong anti-ISIS commitment may unite the nation, and perhaps grant the necessary political capital to continue fighting the group.

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Mahir Zeynalov is a journalist with Turkish English-language daily Today's Zaman. He is also the managing editor of the Caucasus International magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @MahirZeynalov

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:49 - GMT 06:49
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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