The battle of Kobani is shedding light that fundamentally, Islamist Turkey no longer identifies with NATO and the values for which it stands.
Back in August, US embarked on military intervention to protect the Kurds and Yazidis in Iraq as they faced genocide by ISIS, and now the Kurds in Kobani are facing a similar fate.
Yet America and its anti-ISIS coalition find themselves helpless in the face of the impending massacre of Kobani Kurds as they succumb to Turkey’s veto. In stark contradiction to the values that NATO members stand for — democracy, rule of law and especially human rights — Erdogan’s Turkey appears to have thrown out those values and sees Kurds as the greater enemy than the Islamic Khmer Rouge that is ISIS.
In a 7 October New York Times article, a senior administration official said, “There’s growing angst about Turkey dragging its feet to act to prevent a massacre less than a mile from its border.” The official further chastised, “This isn’t how a NATO ally acts while hell is unfolding a stone’s throw from their border.”
Turkey has sealed the border and would not even allow Turkish Kurds to cross over to defend their kin from imminent bloodbath, prompting the UN envoy Staffan de Mistura to implore “We would like to appeal to the Turkish authorities…to allow the flow of volunteers, at least, and their own equipment in order to be able to enter the city and contribute to a self-defence action.”
Moreover, Erdogan is hijacking the US-led coalition for his own agenda of toppling the Assad regime rather than degrading ISIS.
Once again, Erdogan is playing the ISIS card to draw US back into the Syrian war that Obama tried to avoid — the goal of toppling Assad and drawing NATO and western allies into a proxy war against Russia, China and Iran.
From the Chinese perspective, replacing Assad with a Turkey/Arab Gulf states-backed Islamist regime is a red line — especially since Chinese Uyghur jihadists have been using a complicit Turkey to enter Syria/Iraq to join ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates. These jihadi alumni have returned to China to wage waves of violent attacks the past 18 months, and an Islamist regime in Syria would further export jihadism to Xinjiang. Thus China will use military force to defend its core interests.
From the Russian perspective, replacing Assad with an Islamist regime will also further export terror and radicalize Muslims in Chechnya. Russia also wants to protect its naval port in Tartus, and has already demonstrated through its action in Ukraine it would not hesitate to use military force to defend its core interests.
As for Iran, its Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham has already warned Turkey against “making any moves which will further exacerbate and complicate the conditions in the region and have irreparable consequences.”
Thus as M K Bhadrakumar, former Indian ambassador to Turkey observed, Turkey is building momentum for a modest NATO intervention to “protect” a member country (Turkey), hoping invading Syria with its ground troops under a NATO banner would deter Russian and Iranian counter measures.
However, Turkey may be under-estimating and misreading the red lines of Russia, China, Iran and Syria.
In September 2013, when the US threatened air strikes against Assad’s forces, Russia sent a naval flotilla to the Syrian coast while China dispatched its warships to “observe” the situation. In January 2014, China and Russia signaled gunboat diplomacy by conducting joint naval war games off the Syrian coast, followed by Chinese and Iranian naval war games in the Persian Gulf in August.
In June 2012, Jerusalem Post revealed Syrian and Iranian media reported Russia, China, Iran and Syria planned a large-scale war game in Syria, but it did not materialize at the time. However, the current desperate environment may provide the ripe condition for such an exercise to take place.
Hua Liming, former Chinese ambassador to Iran said, “China definitely has a stake in this issue…the rise of ISIS now overrides other turbulence in the Middle East and becomes a common enemy of the world.” Given Turkey has been lax in allowing its territory as transit for Chinese and other foreign fighters to join jihadi groups in Syria and Iraq, Beijing would not take kindly to Turkey’s attempts to replace Assad with its Islamist proxies that would support Uyghur jihadists.
Thus Beijing and Moscow also conducted war games under the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s Peace Mission moniker in Inner Mongolia during August 24-29, with 7,000 troops from member states. The scenario is of local separatist groups receiving support from international terror groups to conduct a coup, and the Shanghai group was called in to quell the coup and restore stability. Despite the large-scale exercise, it received little fanfare in the western press.
Given ISIS is a “common enemy” with which the US-led coalition share common ground with China, Russia and Iran, allowing Turkey to change the mission of degrading ISIS into one of regime change in Syria would pit the coalition against the otherwise cooperative Beijing-Moscow-Tehran axis on ISIS, and is not in the coalition’s interest.