Turkey’s Islamist Prime Minister, Tayyip Recep Erdogan, snubbed the US on Monday, refusing to allow US planes to use a key Turkish airbase. Susan Rice, the the US National Security Adviser, announced on Sunday that Turkey agreed to allow coalition fighter jets to use Incirlik base as a launching point to fly missions against the Islamic State. Turkey said that no such deal had been finalized.
Instead, Turkish jets bombed Kurdish targets inside Turkey. F16 and F-4 jets bombed Daglica near the Iraqi border. The Turkish army claimed that the strikes were in response to the alleged shelling of a Turkish military outpost by the PKK, the leading Kurdish political and military faction in Turkey.
The attacks are the first on a Kurdish target since a ceasefire was signed in 2013 with the PKK. The deal ended 30 years of armed uprising in the Kurdish majority southeast of Turkey.
Incirlik base is used by the US to fly reconnaisance missions over Iraqi airspace as a result of an agreement made in 2007.
Turkey has been widely criticized for its refusal to actively participate in the US led coalition against the Islamic State. Its troops have sealed the border with Kobane, refusing to allow Kurds to cross to aid the defense of the beleagured town to do so. This is despite the Turkish border long having served as a conduit for supplies and recruits for various groups fighting in Syria, including the Islamic State. The Islamist group has also used the Turkish border to smuggle oil for a large profit, with almost no intervention from Ankara.
Support for the Islamic State, rather than the Kurds, seems to be growing in Turkey. On Monday, 46 people were arrested in Istanbul University after a riot broke out between supporters of the Islamic State and left-wing students. Sticks and a meat cleaver were weapons confiscated by the police from scene of the brawl. Local media are reporting seeing signs of support for the Islamist group across Istanbul, including the distinctive Islamist black flag and stickers in the windows of cars. It is not known how widespread the support is or how deep it runs.
Islamic State sympathizers and Kurds have already faced off in the streets of Turkey in almost 30 cities. Additionally police conducted a counter-terrorism raid in the southeastern province of Gaziantep and seized "150 kilograms of C4 explosives, 20 vests for suicide attacks, and a number of guns and bullets in the operation." This collection of weaponry is enough to destroy a small city, according to the police report. It is not yet known whether the arsenal belonged to the Islamic State or the PKK.
With the Turkish army remaining on the sidelines, the Islamic State has all but surrounded Kobane and is flooding reinforcements in from other areas to try and ensure it succeeds in sacking the city. Yesterday the Kurdish defenders recaptured a strategically located hill on the outskirts of the town with the help of US airstrikes. However the defenders remain outnumbered and outgunned.
At the same time, Erdogan gave a speech on Monday denouncing ‘modern day Lawrences of Arabia’ who according to him were manipulating Middle Eastern affairs in the interests of Western powers. He was referring to T.E. Lawrence, the British officer who acted as liason between British forces and Arab leaders during World War I. He is famous for helping to precipitate and win the Arab revolt against the Turkish Ottoman Empire.
Erdogan accused foreign journalists and aid workers of supporting the interests of unspecified enemies and acting as spies. In his televised speech at the Marmara University in Istanbul, Erdogan said “Lawrence was an English spy disguised as an Arab. There are new voluntary Lawrences, disguised as journalists, religious men, writers and terrorists."
The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News said that the speech made it clear that Erdogan regards the Middle East as Turkey’s sphere of influence that should be free of other country's influence.