- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 26, 2003

While Turkey is used to terrorism, the nature and magnitude of the attacks that killed over 50 and injured over 700 people in the past week is new, and has far-reaching implications. As tragic as they were, they represent an opportunity to consolidate Turkey’s place in the Western world and as a major actor in the war on terror.

Kurdish, Marxist and Islamic terrorist networks sowed fear in Turkey throughout the 1980s and 1990s. But those terrorists, while often aided from abroad, were homegrown, and their scope and abilities were limited. Now, for the first time, Turkey has been subjected to high-profile international terrorism. The al Qaeda-typical pattern of simultaneous suicide bombs was something hithertounknownin Turkey. While domestic terrorists were undoubtedly part of the implementation, clearly the planning, training and timing of the bombings was international in nature.

The choice of Turkey as a major al Qaeda target was far from random. Islamic extremists despise Turkey as a traitor to the Muslim world because of its century of Westernization, its secularism and its close alliance with the United States. In this sense, the Istanbul attacks were clearly meant as a price tag to Turkey’s Western orientation and its close ties to the United States Turkey’s historic friendship with Jews and its close ties to Israel also made it a target of choice, as the symbolic bombing of two synagogues clearly illustrates.

It is also no coincidence that Turkey was attacked just as it had offered to send up to 10,000 troops to Iraq to support the U.S. forces there. Its contingent would be the third largest after the American and British presence, proving Turkey’s role as America’s strongest ally in the region. Moreover, as the United States seeks to build democracy in Iraq, Turkey stands out as the single available model for a modern, democratic and secular Muslim state, attracting further ire from extremists.

The bombing of Jewish and British interests in Turkey should not be seen only as an attack on Jews and the United Kingdom but on everything that Turkey stands for: a progressive, modern Muslim nation seeking to integrate itself with the West, allied to the United States and with good relations with Israel.

As tragic as these events were, they provide a significant opportunity to further solidify Turkey’s position in the West and its role in the global war on terrorism. In the past few years, Turkey has been spared from the scourge of large-scale terrorist attacks, and has been focusing on rebuilding its economy after the financial collapse of 2001.

Turkey was now badly reminded of its vulnerability, and of the need to actively and decisively fight terrorism. More importantly, the international connection of the attacks is likely to convince Turkish leaders that they must take up their place as a leading country in the war against terrorism.

In the past year, Turkey’s ties to the United States have been marred by differences arising from the Iraq war, when the Turkish government supported American use of Turkish territory, but failed to have Parliament authorize it. Faced with resurgent terrorism and increasing instability in Iraq that threaten both Turkish and American interests, the two old allies more than ever need to bury their differences.

President Bush’s visit to London illustrates how lonely the United States and the United Kingdom have become in fighting global terrorism with deeds and not simply with words. The Istanbul bombs now provide an opportunity to enlist a third crucial ally in this struggle. Even before the attacks, Turkey’s commitment was proven by its offer to provide troops for Iraq, though the offer was frozen by the Kurdish elements in the Iraqi Governing Council. The appointment of former Turkish Foreign Minister Hikmet Cetin to head NATO peacekeepingin Afghanistan is another example.

Recognizing Turkey’s commitment, the Bush administration now needs to integrate Turkey closer into its partnership with the United Kingdom against terrorism. The United States and Britain could step up their support for Turkey in its efforts to gain membership of the European Union and support the rebuilding of the Turkish economy. Mr. Bush would also do well to resuscitate and accept the Turkish offer to provide troops to Iraq, which would provide much needed help in the Sunni areas of the country.

America, Britain and Turkey are at present the only countries that have both the will and the military capacity to fight terrorism with all the means that it takes. Turkey should be seen not only as a victim of terrorism, but as a crucial force in fighting it.

Svante E. Cornell is deputy director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and editor of the Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst.


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