Turkey has been under the spotlight since US President Barack Obama's announcement to form an international alliance to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Political geography and US foreign policy imperatives mean that any Turkish role will be invaluable to the success of any such effort to combat ISIL.

Ultimately, it is not a question of if there will be a role for Turkey, but more about the limits of possible Turkish involvement, the type of involvement anticipated and the obstacles which face the future mission.

Turkey has its own motives for joining this newly formed coalition that go beyond the way in which the US' announcement was a fait-accompli. As Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently made clear: Turkey "cannot stay outside of that coalition" because "we share 1,200km-long borders, we are being targeted and we have a million and half refugees on our land".

In addition, Ankara believes ISIL has weakened the Syrian opposition, of which it had previously been the primary regional sponsor. Finally, the Turkish opposition's tacit, in-principle support for the coalition against ISIL has defused any potential domestic political tensions. 


IN VIDEO: Will Turkey join the fight against ISIL?


It would be simply unimaginable that Turkey, the only NATO member which borders the Fertile Crescent, would be left out of a regional coalition formed to wage a war and impose policies on the Middle East balance of power. NATO membership means both that military bases located on Turkish territory are indispensable to the alliance as a whole, but also that as a member-state, Turkey has little room for manoeuvre on a foreign policy decision of that magnitude.

Given that it shares a border with the two countries in question, Turkey would clearly not want to be left out of any redrawing of maps or further political settlements - an inevitable consequence of the conflict with ISIL.

Ankara understands that its participation in any coalition to combat ISIL will not be a walk in the park. Turkey's long borders with Syria and Iraq are difficult to control and monitor: It is effectively the only prospective coalition member which stands to absorb any military retaliation from ISIL in the event of strikes against the group.

Turkey can pose a number of questions and raise concerns about the efficacy of any strikes against ISIL. One such concern is the possibility of ISIL weapons falling into the hands of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which Turkey still regards as a terrorist organisation.

Ankara understands that its participation in any coalition to combat ISIl will not be a walk in the park. Turkey's long borders with Iraq and Syria are difficult to control and monitor: it is effectively the only prospective coalition member which stands to absorb any military retaliation from ISIL in the event of strikes against the group.

Another possibility is that the fallout from any strikes on ISIL will have a negative impact on Iraqi Kurdistan. Both such eventualities would adversely affect the peace process with the Kurds, which is a top priority for Ankara at present.

Some other possible consequences of any action against ISIL could also potentially be detrimental to Turkey's stated foreign policy aims in the region, and its national security priorities. These would include the strengthening of the Syrian President Bashar al- Assad's regime, and the possible partition of Iraq. 

The mission creep which affected the war in Iraq - launched ostensibly to destroy weapons of mass destruction in that country - serves also to give the Turkish government reason to pause.

In this regard, Turkish fears were not allayed by US Secretary of State John Kerry's statement that his country was not only fighting ISIL, but also was engaged in a battle against "terrorism" more broadly.

Balancing these risks against the imperatives to join the coalition, the Turkish government pre-empted a visit by Kerry by leaking a policy statement that it would not take part in aerial or ground attacks against ISIL. The leaked statement also indicated that Turkey would not allow its military bases to engage in the military actions against ISIL.

American pressure on Turkey to take part in the coalition against ISIL was made explicit in a White House statement that the role to be played by its Middle East ally would be defined at a later time.

Thus, it became clear that Turkey would play a supporting role in the offensive, one which would be defined along three broad lines: The Incirlik Air Base on Turkish territory will provide humanitarian and logistical support - but not direct combat assistance - in the sorties over Iraq and Syria. Second, Turkey will also work to distribute the humanitarian assistance provided by coalition members to those afflicted by ISIL in Iraq and Syria.
And thirdly, Turkey will also provide the military command within the coalition with intelligence/reconnaissance support for the aims of the coalition.

Through these means, Turkey will be able to fulfil its unavoidable obligations to take part in the coalition without having to fully acknowledge any such participation and facing the domestic and regional consequences. Any turbulence at this stage can overturn former Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's famous formulation of "zero problems" in Turkey's geopolitical neighbourhood and convert it into "zero calm".

As the Turkish government does not want to repeat the mistake it made during the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, when the country's parliament refused a cabinet request to allow the US to launch the invasion from Turkish territory, it now wants to persuade the coalition against ISIL that military remedies alone will not suffice.

Instead, Turkey would like a comprehensive political strategy adopted, one which remedied the causes of terrorism that being, primarily, the Assad regime in Syria and the lack of pluralist political participation in Iraq. Turkey would also like to see the implementation of social and economic policies which address the concerns of the social base which supports ISIL.

The White House appears to be taking Turkish concerns with regards to the war on ISIL seriously. Today, however, the counterintuitive truth is that while Turkey stands to lose the most from any military adventures on its doorstep, the country's aims in the present situation are limited to simply reducing the threat to its national interests.

Source: Al Jazeera