“Istanbul had a rendezvous with a bloody suicide attack, the most violent in the country since the two suicide bombings in Ankara last October,” writes Mohammad Noureddin in the leftist Lebanese daily as-Safir.
Mohammad Noureddin – as-Safir
The powerful bombing that shook the Sultan Ahmet area – the heart of the city’s tourist area– also shook security and stability in Turkey. It dealt a strong blow to the tourist sector that left ten dead, mostly German tourists.
The speed with which the Turkish authorities declared that ISIS was ‘most likely’ to be responsible for the bombing and with which it identified the perpetrator’s identity was remarkable. The truth, however, is that the Istanbul bombing comes amidst a number of tensions afflicting Turkey.
In the country’s southeast and for more than two months now, a full-scale urban war has been raging between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish army. This is quite different from the 1990s war that was conducted in rural areas. Because many Kurdish cities have turned into war zones, many neighborhoods have been destroyed and are in ruin, and thousands of inhabitants have been forced to leave. All this has been crowned with an official declaration from the Kurds some 20 days ago, proclaiming their main demand of self-rule. Moreover, many PKK leaders have made statements (that are not new in content) threatening to expand the war to include other Turkish cities.
The bombing also comes within the context of the growing friction between Turkey, and the Russia/Iran/Syria axis because of the crises in Syria and Iraq, as well as the tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia. It is not unlikely that Ankara will accuse the three allies of being behind the bombing, if only indirectly, based on the axis’s desire to ‘weaken Turkey’ especially its tourist sector. This may explain [Turkish President] Erdogan’s violent attack on Iran in tandem with the Istanbul bombing.
The terrorist bombing also comes against the background of Turkey’s diminishing influence and effectiveness on the battlefield in Syria, especially in the Aleppo and Latakia countryside where the Syrian army continues to advance. The attack also follows the tangible advances achieved by the [PKK-affiliated] Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) (under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)) west of the Euphrates River, especially after these units have taken control of the Tishreen Dam, and after clashes between the Kurds and ISIS.
It is possible to expect more than one scenario regarding the last two developments, the common denominator between them being Turkish military intervention in Syria. The first scenario goes as follows: If Ankara’s priority is to prevent the Kurds from crossing the red line it has set for their advance west of the Euphrates, then its accusation will be ready. Ankara will say that, regardless of the perpetrators’ nationality, ISIS was behind the Istanbul bombing. Turkish PM Davutoglu who has promised to ‘pursue the war on terrorism with the same determination without distinguishing between terrorist organizations, whether they are ISIS or the PKK’ has already said as much. He added that ‘ISIS has benefited from the security vacuum in the region, especially in Syria and Iraq, and now poses a threat to the region and the world.’ These statements reflect the notion that Turkey’s national security requires it and its allied armed groups to enter the [Syrian] areas controlled by ISIS from Jarablus to Mari’ and A’zaz; in other words, the same area that Turkey wants to turn into a ‘security buffer zone.’
Regarding this scenario, it is worth noting the similarity between the government’s reaction to yesterday’s bombing in Sultan Ahmet and the bombing in Suruc last July 20th. Less than two hours after the Suruc attack when bodies were still strewn in the public square, the government accused ISIS of being responsible. Three days later, Turkey declared its –merely ‘virtual’– war on that terrorist organization, one that was also directed against the PKK, bearing in mind that ISIS has still not declared its responsibility for the attack. The speed with which the identity and affiliation of the perpetrator were revealed yesterday recalls the speed with which the perpetrators of the Suruc attack was revealed. It also provides us with some the plans that Turkey and its regional allies may be preparing in Syria.
The fact is that whether ISIS declares its responsibility for the Istanbul attack or not, Turkey will try to use this attack in ways that will serve its priorities, paying no heed to the real nature of the bombing and its perpetrators’ true identity or affiliation. But if Turkey’s priority were to check the Syrian army’s advances aided by Russian warplanes in the Latakia countryside and Aleppo’s environs in particular, this would call for a different scenario. While ISIS may still be accused of responsibility, Turkey will still use this as an excuse to justify its entry into Syria.
The obstacles may be less in the first scenario where the Kurds are seen to be Turkey’s priority, due to the dangers that would face any Turkish intervention in Syria. In the second scenario, Turkey’s ability to move militarily will be very limited and the consequences may be very grave because the Russians are eagerly awaiting any Turkish ‘misstep’ in Syria in order to offer a vigorous military response to the loss of their warplane.
But the Istanbul suicide bombing’s biggest blow is undoubtedly to the tourism sector. The attack targeted the capital of Turkish tourism, the heart of tourism in the country, in fact. What further aggravates its negative consequences is the fact that nine of those killed were German. Germany is the country that has the largest number of tourists with some six million Germans visiting Turkey last year. They head the list of foreign visitors, constituting some 15% of the overall number of tourists to the country. When added to the decline of the tourism sector resulting from Russia’s decision to ban its citizens from visiting Turkey– around five-million tourists each year constituting 13% of all tourists followed by the British with 9%– the catastrophe facing that sector seems to be complete.
If there is a final conclusion to be drawn from all this, it is that the Istanbul terrorist bombing is the natural consequence of the ruling Turkish Justice and Development Party’s (AKP’s) mistaken policies of involvement and intervention in Syria, and the transformation of Turkish territories into the headquarters and means of passage for the terrorist groups flowing into Syria from all over the world.
“This has been attested to by all parties, most recently by French President Francois Hollande who has urged Turkey to seal its borders with Syria,”