[email protected]

May 22, 2012, Tuesday

Terrorism and the new regional order

Terrorism is taking on a new form in Turkey. This change is mainly the result of renewed relations with northern Iraq. As we know, Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani recently promised Turkey he will not allow the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to operate out of northern Iraqi territory.

The main reason of the rapprochement between Turkey and Barzani is Iran’s regional ambitions. Iran supports Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as well as the Baath regime in Syria while trying to corner other actors such as the regional authority in northern Iraq, which refuses to cooperate with Tehran. If Iraq falls apart, northern Iraq will be the first region to declare its independence, and an independent northern Iraq would prefer to cooperate with Turkey as opposed to Iran.

As far as Barzani is concerned, Maliki and his sponsor, Iran, are the main threats. What is interesting is that the PKK disturbs both Iran and Barzani. The latter absolutely does not want the PKK to become a factor in poisoning its relations with Turkey and Iran does not want the PKK to become an excuse for Ankara to justify interference in northern Iraqi politics.

The PKK still has some impact over Turkey’s foreign policy, which means there are still foreign actors who use it in order to manipulate Turkey. Recent attacks perpetrated by the PKK give the impression that the terrorist organization is trying to set back the clock. The attacks did not target the police but the armed forces, and they were carried out in provinces near the Syrian border. Official reports confirm that those who perpetrated these attacks came from Syria.

This information has made everybody think the Syrian regime is threatening Turkey. In other words, Damascus is angry with Turkey for supporting its opposition and thus it supports the PKK to punish Turkey. It is, however, too hasty to accept this theory as the only plausible explanation as there is no tangible proof that these particular attacks were encouraged by Damascus. Besides, if the PKK’s attacks intensify, Turkey may decide to intervene militarily in Syria. This is something the Syrian regime would like to prevent, as the Bashar al-Assad regime would not be able to survive a Turkish military intervention. That is why it does not seem logical to look at Syria to find who has provoked the PKK.

If Turkey decides to intervene in Syria because of the PKK, Syria will become a quagmire for Turkey. This is probably exactly what the PKK wants. Pulling Turkey into Syria would have another consequence: Turkey’s relations with the Syrian people would inevitably deteriorate and thus Ankara would have a hard time with any Syrian government that may replace the Baath regime.

So, the right question is who would like to place Turkey in a difficult position with the Syrian people. Israel may appear to some people as the first country willing to weaken Turkey’s position in the Middle East, but this is too hasty a conclusion as well. Israel would prefer Turkey to preserve its prestige in the eyes of the Syrian people given the risk that Islamists could seize power in Damascus. Israel hopes to prolong the rule of the Assad regime, but its second-best option would be for Turkey to have strong influence over Syria.

Is Iran the country that would like Turkey to fall into a trap? Maybe, but despite the ongoing rivalry between the two countries, one must keep in mind that both are determined to preserve the delicate balance between them. Maybe there are a number of players in Europe who would try to set Turkey against Iran by using the PKK and Syrian issues. If you consider that a conflict between Iran and Turkey would also put US-Russian relations in jeopardy, it will be easier to name those European players.

Previous articles of the columnist