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April 15, 2013, Monday

Al-Nusra’s growing influence prompts frequent Turkey visits by Kerry

It is unusual for US secretaries of state to visit a single country as frequently as John Kerry has been doing since his appointment, with a scheduled visit to Turkey on April 20 for the third time since March 1.

In his earlier visits to İstanbul, Kerry, said to be the architect of the Turkish-Israeli reconciliation, urged Ankara to return its relationship with Tel Aviv to normal as quickly as possible. In addition, Kerry focused on Syria where the civil war entered its third year last month, leaving 70,000 deaths in its wake.

On his third visit to Turkey, Kerry will attend the upcoming Friends of Syria meeting that will take place in İstanbul during which 11 countries will come together in an attempt to boost the international community's efforts to find a solution to the Syrian crisis.

Involving the international community in a solution for Syria has, however, become increasingly frustrating as this community has so far not displayed any inclination to stop Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime's brutal three-year crackdown on his own people.

Instead, the prolongation of the civil war in Syria has begun playing into the hands of radical Islamist groups such as the country's fiercest rebel group, Jabhat al-Nusra.

Al-Nusra has increasingly become the key fighting force within the Syrian opposition against the Assad regime while, ironically, many nations including Turkey have been hosting the same opposition group in an endless exercise to strengthen it against the Assad regime. Nations that call themselves “friends of Syria” have so far failed to arm and train the opposition from the very start -- also as a means of preventing radical Islamists such as al-Nusra from becoming stronger within the opposition -- choosing instead to focus on diplomacy, which has not worked so far.

The more the international community has become inadequate in finding a solution to the Syrian crisis, the more it has been strengthening radical Islamic groups such as al-Nusra in Syria.

Al-Nusra's recent public pledge of allegiance to al-Qaeda has become an alarming situation for the US in particular, which has long been fighting against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Al-Nusra has already strongly established itself in Syria and has now been leading the opposition, Western intelligence sources in Ankara say.

Once and if Assad goes -- the same intelligence sources believe that the Syrian leader is finished, but the question is when he will leave -- al-Nusra, currently fighting against the Assad regime within the opposition, will ironically begin to become engaged in a battle with the same opposition, i.e., Syrian liberals, Democrats, Christians, Alevis, etc.

On al-Nusra's looming danger in Syria, in the sense that this country has been carrying the potential risk of coming under radical Islamic influence if Assad's downfall becomes a reality, NATO allies Turkey and the US do not see eye to eye.

Turkey, which has been focused on seeing Assad's downfall, allegedly is of the opinion that al-Nusra is an effective fighter against Assad and that Ankara can control this radical Islamic group.

“Any means necessary for Assad to go, even if it means through al-Nusra, appears to be valid for Turkey. But this is a very short-sighted view,” the Western intelligence sources believe.

In his third visit to Turkey in two months due to take place on April 20, US Secretary of State Kerry will try to convince both Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu that allowing al-Nusra to gain a lead position in Syria is unwise.

Ironically, on the other hand, none of the nations, including the US, concerned about Syria's prolonged civil war have any formula to stop the civil war and curb al-Nusra's influence within the opposition. There is no plan at all to declare a no fly zone in Syria led by NATO to stem the violence from Assad's regime out of fear that Damascus may retaliate with chemical weapons.

Western intelligence sources in Ankara, however, are of the opinion that those friends of Syria should supply the opposition with arms and training to turn it into an effective force against regime forces while finding a way to prevent those arms from falling into the hands of al-Nusra. This is an extremely difficult task but intelligence sources suggest that a team of advisors supporting the Syrian opposition can distribute arms and provide training for the opposition and that the same team can prevent the arms from falling into the hands of al-Nusra.

To sum up, in the absence of a thoughtful policy designed by the international community to stop the bloodshed in Syria, its neighbor Turkey has been facing increased security threats from Damascus. It remains to be seen, meanwhile, whether Ankara will listen to Washington in drawing up a common strategy against the threat of al-Nusra in Syria. 

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