Erdogan will not tolerate the birth of a Kurdish semi-state
Published 25/07/2015 | 02:30
Turkey's decision to send fighter jets against Isil positions in Syria and open its Incirlik and Pirinclik air bases to US jets is a step-change in its involvement in the fight against militant jihad.
Whether it turns into open war on Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is another matter.
The deal between the reluctant AKP government in Ankara and the US has been a year in the making, though it was only announced after Isil had effectively declared war by bombing a cultural centre in the Turkish border town of Suruc, killing 32 young people.
Turkey has until now tolerated Isil to some extent, even on its territory, as it recruited fighters and smuggled them - with their weapons - into Syria.
Its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has always believed the Assad regime is the real threat to peace; Isil can be dealt with after it has gone.
Events of the past few months have changed that -and not just the direct threat to Turkey that Isil represents.
More important is the increasingly complex nature of the fighting in northern Syria. The Assad regime has all but disappeared from Syria's northern border areas. But it is not the rebels, whom Turkey has backed in all their variety from the start of the war, that have taken its place.
The two dominant forces along the 600-mile border now are Isil and Syria's Kurds, led by the PYD, a party allied to Turkey's own banned Kurdish movement, the PKK. They are fighting each other and the Kurds are pushing the Isil forces back.
And as it is pushed west, Isil is squeezing the small area of the border north of Aleppo still held by the non-Isil, Turkey-backed rebels.
Turkey's worst fear is that Isil will drive them out and seize the crossing at Kilis, scene of the exchange between Isil and Turkish forces on Thursday.
If the Kurds were then to defeat Isil around Kilis, they would join the two patches of Kurdish-held territory into one long, Kurdish semi-state on Turkey's southern flank. Mr Erdogan has made clear that this is his 'red line'.
So the non-Isil rebels have to be saved.
Turkey's bombing raids were carefully targeted to this end: they struck an Isil base and weapons store close to the rebel front line near Marea.
But senior rebel leaders say they do not expect the bombing - in itself, a response to the attack on the Kilis outpost - to spread into a wider confrontation.
Turkey still has too much to lose if it engages in a full-scale war with Isil. There are too many jihadist recruiters operating in its big cities.
It will have extracted some sort of promise from the Americans, who have co-operated directly with the Kurds on the ground, that their advances and ambitions will be kept firmly under control.
In return, some increased risk will be undertaken against Isil; but full-scale intervention, including regular air raids, is still some way off. (© Daily Telegraph, London)