Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed
The Muslim Brotherhood had earlier adopted the Turkish position opposing any involvement in the international efforts against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq. It issued statements refusing to support the coalition forces. Turkey, however, has taken a U-turn revealing its willingness to join the international military effort.
We can expect the Brotherhood to change its position in order to avoid being left further isolated. It seems Turkey’s initial position was simply a strategic maneuver to convince the IS to release Turkish hostages, who had been arrested by the extremist organization in response to restrictions imposed by the Turkish government on volunteer fighters crossing through Turkish territory.
Most of the objections for joining the international war efforts against the IS had come from Iran, a positive move, especially as points of objection by Iran are usually accepted among the majority of Arab states due to the sharp division and the rising hatred between the two sides, precisely over the Syrian issue. Aside from that, the objections were rather faint. Statements of the Brotherhood no longer leave much of an impact on the streets, despite having previously led public opinion.
The Muslim Brothers of Syria were keen on playing it smarter than the rest of the organization, and thus decided to shy away from involvement in any political conflicts that might weaken their position in the region. They operated separately from the organization’s main branches in Egypt and Jordan, who, at the beginning of the Syrian revolution, had taken an uncompromising position with the Assad regime, a position that aligned with that of Iran and represented the main compass of the organization’s activity in the region. Eventually, they expressed their support for the Syrian people against the regime, but not until final days of the deposed Egyptian President Mursi.
The Muslim Brothers of Syria committed a strategic mistake when they announced their opposition to the international efforts to fight the IS in Syria, saying that they wanted “the first shot to be in the head of Assad!” They were well aware of the complexities and supposedly knew that the fight against IS would ultimately reach Damascus. Their excuse was to defend the extremist group, Ahrar Al-Sham, but in actuality, the group is different from IS in terms of their extremist ideology. Then there is Turkey, a member state of NATO. It has major responsibilities toward the alliance in any war it is involved in, in return for NATO’s responsibility to protect Turkish territory from any repercussion of international and regional disputes, including those triggered by Iran and Russia. NATO membership does not directly force the Turks to participate in the war against radical organizations in Syria and Iraq but Turkey’s refusal to participate automatically deprives Ankara from reaping the results of the war.
Thus, Erdogan strategically decided to change his position, declaring that he not only favors the international effort, but is also prepared to send his forces.
Of course, Erdogan’s comment that the world had left Turkey alone to face the Syrian regime is blatantly untrue, as, in fact, the Turks did not do much to confront the Syrian regime, besides receiving refugees as Lebanon and Jordan had done. Nonetheless, the decision of Turkey to join the international war effort has greatly boosted chances of a potential victory over the IS, as Turkey is considered a main corridor for members of the organization, and is geographically closest to fight and surround them. More so, this stance has put great pressure on the West to finally adopt a position of political change in Damascus.