Sunday, 24 January 2016

The Istanbul Attacks : Turkey and the Growing Threat of ISIS Terror in Europe.

An attempted ISIS attack on London is likely in 2016 but Berlin could well be next. The terror attack on German tourists in Istanbul was about damaging Turkey's tourist business as well as sending the message to Germany, which pledged to indirectly assist the Western Powers in attacking the Caliphate, that they were getting closer.

The German Foreign Minister, Thomas de de Maiziere, on 16th January even suggested there was probably no evidence German citizens were targeted. With no hint of irony he claimed 'Germany and Turkey are coming even closer to each other", a claim that was truer than he could probably imagine.

Turkish officials, as well as Prime Minister Davutoğlu, claimed the suicide bomber was a Saudi-born Syrian refugee whose finger prints had been taken, as with those coming into the EU, but failed to be on any terrorist watch list. With security such as that, it is hardly suprising the risk of terrorist blowback increases

The other problem is Turkey has sought to use terror attacks as am ex post facto pretext to justify their own foreign policies, pretending that their own air strikes against ISIS had been thwarted by Russian intervention in the Syrian War which started on September 30 2015, some months after Turkey's own intervention on July 24.

Of course, Erdogan and Davutoğlu would want to blame Russia for having defeated their war on ISIS. For the Turkish AKP government never fought it, prefering to use the deal with the US to use Incirlik air base to launch their own air strikes against YGP aligned PKK militias and tilt the balance towards ISIS as a counter force.

The absurdity of this Turkish position has meant the US and Russia have effectively aligned to back the YPG  and its affiliated Sunni Arab Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with air strikes while Turkey, a NATO state, had vowed never to allow Kurdish forces to advance west of the River Euphrates without a military response.

It could be that Turkish government officials are looking to divert attention from their own collusion with radical jihadists before 2014 and having allowed ISIS to retreat into Turkey the better to regroup and attack Kurdish militias as late as the beginning of 2015. Erdogan in 2016 clearly regards Kurdish irredentism as a greater threat.

The arrest of three Russian jihadists, presumably from Chechnya, seems politically convenient too given the recent hostilities between Turkey and Russia that escalated when the Turks shot down a Russian fighter jet that was reported to have strayed into their air space. It shows Russia cannot control terrorists across borders too.

However, in effect, the US and Russia are acting, as Patrick Cockburn states, 'as though they were in a de facto alliance', leaving Turkey effectively excluded from having much to offer at the Geneva talks. Erdogan would be humiliated as he has staked his credibility as a regional power in overthrowing Assad and posing as Sunni Arab champion.

The danger is that Erdogan might not only step up the war against Kurdish nationalists within Turkey, and even clamp down on domestic critics ; he may gamble on ordering a  military intervention through a ground offensive in northern Syria to seize the territory between Jarabalus and Afrin

The aim would be to prevent the creation of a "Kurdish Corridor" from the frontier with Iraq to the Mediterranean. Yet it would contradict US strategy in Syria and could lead to direct conflict with Russia which would resist the incursion with aircraft and anti-aircraft missiles and force a change of tack from the West.

The upshot of that would be to draw Russia and the Kurdish PKK closer together with the PKK a proxy of Moscow and, in response, leading to a Pan-Turkic nationalist reaction as well covert backing for Turkic and Chechen jihadists in order to make problems for Putin again in Southern Russia.

The ultimate knock on effect of that would be the spread of radicalised jihadists and blowback risk  deep into Germany in continuity with the rising threats that have come from the Caucasus and Central Asia in the last decade and detailed by Guido Steinberg in German Jihad : The Internationalisation of Islamist Terrorism.

With huge unchecked numbers of migrants from Syria arriving through Turkey, some 1.1 million to date, that threat could increase with the strains put on German society should a Chinese financial or Saudi collapse-or both-crash trigger off a global economic crisis and slump with resulting mass unemployment.

Erdogan's lurch towards greater authoritarianism and militarism at home and abroad certainly would not be challenged by the EU or Germany because he could threaten to allow further numbers of migrants to travel west if Turkish interests are ignored over Syria in favour of Russia in the haste to finish off ISIS.

The migrant crisis is a handy means to extract money from the EU and as a bargaining lever both in 2016 and into the future as Central Europe gains up to a million mostly Muslims that would look to Turkey as a guarantor of their interests and religion in both Europe and Turkey, So the neo-Ottoman policy may be pursued by other means.

Turkey's policy has been consistently to big up the Kurdish PKK threat and effectively use ISIS as a check on them in Syria, something that continues to hold back the decisive possibility of destroying the Caliphate and which is clearly the source of the jihadist terror threat to the 'near' and 'far' enemies abroad

Germany may wish to cooperate with Turkey and it and the EU has no choice. But there is little possibility of defeating ISIS while Turkey continues to hope it could use Sunni jihadists as pieces on the regional chessboard in not only Syria but in the Caucasus region and eastwards in Xinjiang in China too.

 It is going to be incredibly difficult to end the war in Syria without persuading Erdogan to see sense. The Kurdish threat was not so great as ISIS will become now that it has shown belatedly that it needs to start sealing its borders with Syria and so incurring the end to ISIS's stand off with Ankara hitherto ( previously Kurds were targeted )

What certainly needs to happen-and has partly already occured and will happen anyway-is for European states to start restoring their border controls and ending the Schengen Agreement. Merkel is clearly deluded in this respect in believing continued mass migration and free movement across borders could coexist.

As John Gray put it,
'....uncontrolled immigration on the scale that has been reached in the past year cannot avoid posing security risks in conditions that ­approximate those of war. If Isis militants form only a tenth of 1 per cent of the ­million or so migrants who have entered Europe to date, a thousand or more new risks have been created. When it is recalled that the Isis militants who have returned from Syria to Britain are believed to number in the hundreds, the danger is clear enough. A major terrorist threat can be created by very few people.'

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