By Gwynne Dyer,
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not an ‘Islamist’, in the extreme sense of the word. He doesn’t wear a suicide vest and he doesn’t behead people – but he certainly does like the Islamists a lot.
It was Erdogan who kept the Turkish border open so that thousands of foreign fighters could go to Syria to join the terrorist ‘Islamic State’, which was a descendant of Osama bin Laden’s original Al-Qaeda organisation.
More recently, he has stationed Turkish troops in Syria’s Idlib province, the one remaining rebel-held part of the country, where Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, another offshoot of Al-Qaeda, now rules unchallenged.
Unchallenged, that is, except by Syrian army troops backed by Russian airpower who are gradually taking the province back. So it’s no surprise that the Turkish army in Idlib is now firing directly on Syrian forces.
Turkey claims that four of its soldiers in Idlib were killed by Syrian shellfire on Sunday, and that it killed 35 Syrian troops in retaliatory fire. Erdogan added: “Those who question our determination will soon understand they made a mistake.”
He also warned Russia, Syria’s ally, “not to stand in our way.” But Moscow won’t back down, so Erdogan is now playing with the prospect of a shooting war with Syria and Russia.
That would be enough on his plate, you might think, but he is also intervening in the civil war in Libya. He backs the Islamist-dominated government in the capital, Tripoli, against the rebel army led by General Khalifa Haftar that controls most of the country, and he has just sent troops to support it.
The troops are Syrian Arabs, part of the same Islamist puppet army that Erdogan used recently to invade the Kurdish part of Syria. His intervention in Libya puts Turkey into a potential confrontation with France, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, all of which back Haftar.
But Erdogan’s not finished yet. He has also militarised a dispute with Greece and Cyprus over seabed oil and gas reserves, to the extent that Turkish fighter planes are now violating Greek airspace almost daily. He has also demanded that Athens demilitarise sixteen Greek islands that are close to the Turkish west coast.
France has now sent warships to the eastern Mediterranean, and President Emmanuel Macron has explained that “Greece and France are pursuing a new framework of strategic defence.” ‘Defence’ against whom? Turkey, obviously. Who else could it be?
Turkey is still formally a member of NATO, so technically France and Greece are its allies, but Erdogan doesn’t seem bothered by that. Neither was he bothered by the fact that the United States is also a NATO member when he invaded northeastern Syria last October to drive the Kurds, America’s key allies in the war against Islamic State, from their homes in the border region.
He got away with that: the Kurds had served their purpose and Trump just abandoned them to their fate. But is he really wise to take on almost everybody else at once?
One reasonably small and successful war might actually benefit Erdogan by mobilising Turkish nationalism, but three at once? Against Russian and Syria on one front, France and Egypt on another, and Greece plus France and perhaps other NATO and European Union members on a third.
He used to be a fairly competent strategist, but he has been in power too long (17 years) and he has finally lost the plot. This is megalomania.