Turkey’s close relationship with Ahrar al-Sham raises serious questions about Ankara’s aims in Syria

Sam Heller and Aaron Stein write: In April 2012, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmet Davutoglu authored a paper that was to be the basis for Turkey’s Arab Spring doctrine — a “values-based foreign policy” for a region in flux. Davutoglu articulated an interventionist approach according to which Turkey would pursue greater regional integration and encourage representative democracy. He also repeated a central theme from his book, Strategic Depth, pledging that Turkey would work to avoid “new tensions and polarizations” in the region, particularly along sectarian and political lines.

Three years later, the positive vision of Davutoglu’s manifesto seems jarring, and nowhere more so than in neighboring Syria. Turkey has gone to incredible lengths to assist Syrian civilians in need, and it has cultivated ties with an array of political and military actors in the Syrian opposition. Yet Turkey has also invested heavily in rebel allies that both reject democracy and espouse extreme sectarianism. In particular, Turkey has developed a close relationship with Ahrar al-Sham, a Salafist rebel movement that espouses a Syrian focus, but also has roots in global jihadism and maintains close ties with Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusrah. Aside from the Islamic State, Ahrar is now the single strongest rebel force in Syria. Turkey’s role in supporting Ahrar illustrates how Turkey has compromised its ambitious policy goals in Syria and raises questions about Ankara’s reported planned intervention in Aleppo to carve out a “safe zone” along its border with Syria. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Prospects for a period of instability in Turkey increased on Tuesday after attempts by the dominant party to form a new coalition government officially ended in failure.

The development helped create the basis for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to call for a new election, which would mean the installation of a temporary government just as Turkey is facing new threats from Islamic State militants in neighboring Syria and a re-energized Kurdish insurgency at home. An Islamic State video released on Monday called for Turkish Muslims to revolt against the president. [Continue reading…]

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