The self-professed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has recently gained traction in its fight against the west and its allies. Even after the United States launched a major offensive against the terrorist group in July, the ground beneath the feet if the Islamic State hardly seems to be shrinking. The tactics employed by ISIS in projecting itself as a global entity are the primary reason for its outreach and popularity. With its ability to attract followers not only in developing but also in developed countries, the group now looks to fight a new kind of war from within the borders of those countries it deems as enemies.
A recent video by the group instrumentally urged its supporters to rise up and help it in overthrowing the Turkish government. This seems to be in retaliation of the direct involvement of Turkey in the U.S campaign against the group, and also is on the heels of the first direct fight between Turkey and ISIS last month. Now as the two are in active engagement, it is worth inquiring whether or not the threats levelled by the group can be substantiated. Does ISIS have the strength and strategy to overthrow the Turkish government?
The new ISIS video is relevant in this context because it propagates an all out war against the Turkish government. Despite its proximity to the threat levelled by the terror group, in recent years Turkey has done very little to address the threat along its border with Syria. Nearly 100 people have died as a result of ISIS related bombings within Turkey, while the government had mostly remained passive-aggressive regarding the threat to its citizens. The bombing of the city of Suruc in July served as the beginning of an open – ended campaign by the Turkish government against ISIS and all of its affiliates. The Turkish Army has deployed in large numbers along the border and is on ‘highest alert levels’.
But all this has come after a long and endless debate over whether or not Turkey ought to directly engage ISIS. The Tuks, at one time, due to their reluctance to join the war on ISIS were implicated on the grounds that the funding for the group was in fact coming through Turkey. The claims however merely remained speculations as no substantial proof of Turkish involvement has yet been found. Just last year, the Turks were the strongest opponents of any kind of direct contact with ISIS. In the mid of 2014 when the U.S looked to launch an aerial campaign against the terror group, the Turkish airbase of Incirlik was the most favorable choice for the allies. However Turkey bluntly refused the use of not only its airbases but also of its airspace, thereby further creating hurdles in the fight against ISIS. The use of the Incirlik airbase would have enhanced the capability of the U.S in launching rapid attacks against the group. During the siege of Kobani earlier this year, the Turkish President was criticized for his passiveness when Kurdish refugees were being slaughtered throughout the city by ISIS members. Only in recent months have the Turks finally allowed the use of their airspace in engagement against ISIS. The Turkish Air Force has also been carrying out regular bombing routines within Syria on ISIS strongholds. This change in policy on the part of Turkey can be attributed to the sudden animosity that ISIS now bears towards Turkey and its government.
Now that Turkey has finally started to engage the terror outfit, lets consider the question of whether or not Turkey bears a threat of being over-run by ISIS. Turkey is one the of most militarily active members of NATO and is thus protected from outside attack under the NATO Mutual Defence clause. Turkey also has the 10th largest Army in the world and has some of the worlds most advanced weaponry at its disposal. The Turks also boast defence ties with the OIC and the ECO, and are also dialogue partners in the SCO. The Turkish military outnumbers the ISIS fighters by a ratio of almost 8:1, not to mention the military hardware and software at their disposal as well. Needless to say, the Turks can easily deter an offensive by ISIS, no matter what strategy the terror outfit implies.
There is one aspect of ISIS that has been the defining line for their steady advance towards the west: Unpredictability. The terror group has been successful in deposing governmental control in many parts of Iraq not only by force but also by its propaganda tactics. One of the main reasons for its success has been its ability to create ties within the ranks of its enemies, and thus start a war from within. The same is true for their rise in Syria and their brief yet potentially brutal stint in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan. The fact that ISIS can rapidly garner new followers from every corner of the world, and that people from western countries are leaving their livelihoods behind to travel to Iraq and Syria and join ISIS is the most remarkable feat any group has ever achieved in history. Despite being known for its brutal and oppressive tactics, the popularity of ISIS, especially in the west, seems to be steadily on the rise.
This right here, is the biggest threat to Turkey at the moment, which is already facing the blunt of terrorism within its borders. Should ISIS successfully garner enough political and military support to depose a sitting Turkish government from within, however unlikely that may seem at the moment, the consequences for the region and the rest of the world will be devastating.