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Will Turkey be facing a war on two fronts?

International media and politics have taken high interest in analysing what is being valled a major turn in Turkish foreign policy in the last few days Politicians and journalists from Arab, European and US media were mostly approving of the attacks that Turkish fighter bombers had conducted on ISIS positions in Syria. However, commentators were also concerned about the fact that, during the following days, military and police forces seemed to focus much more on targeting the PKK on Iraqi and Turkish soil.

The fear that Turkey could be drawn into a war on two fronts was expressed on multiple occasions and became a widely used phraseology even after the top priority target of Turkey’s so called Operation Martyr Yalçın was obvious. (e.g. see here, here and here) But is a two-front war a current threat to the region in general and Turkey in particular? And how reasonable is it to prophesy a specific kind of war, at least two of the three would-be-involved parties are not interested in?

Abdullah Öcalan, source

In fact, the PKK and Turkey have more or less stuck to the plan they had agreed on during multiple meetings in 2012/2013. Clashes did happen since then, but it was no match to the war and terror that spread during the 1990s or mid 2000s. It is hard, if not impossible, to tell what the opinion inside the PKK ranks looks like. Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed but still highly influential leader of the organisation, has not said anything regarding the conflict for months, though it is not known whether this is due to simple inactivity or restriction. It is likely that there are at least factions inside the PKK that are in favour of a wider escalation of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict. A full-scale war between Turkey and ISIS as a whole would weaken both contesters and so the PKK could possibly intensify their attacks or at least would not be as much a target as it is by now.

PM Ahmet Davutoğlu and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, source

Turkey, or better said: Erdoğan, meanwhile sees this conflict more from a domestic point of view. The battle against the PKK is in short term an opportunity for point scoring ahead of expected early elections and a fight against a long-time enemy. Erdoğan himself is certainly not interested in being drawn into another conflict whose end nobody could foresee. ISIS has wide networks all over Turkey. A full-scale war could easily set the whole country on fire and especially hit the tourist locations on the southern shore, which would have a devastating effect on Turkish economics. Tunisia and Egypt have already suffered from that fate. Erdoğan’s political success mainly results from his ambition to modernise Turkey and push economical development. 

Airstrikes on ISIS positions at the beginning of Operation Martyr Yalçın were in retaliation for the border attack and an nothing but an alibi for the NATO states. At the same time, they did not provoke ISIS to attack.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, source

ISIS is also not likely to be feverishly looking forward to a war against Turkey. At least not now. The organisation is heavily relying on Turkey as a connecting route for supporters who want to join ISIS coming from overseas. Moreover, nation’s territory is also important for a constant flow of supplies and economical resources in general. All in all, its status quo can be described as the most favourable and profitable situation for ISIS. The Turkish goverment has been giving the terrorists free rein over the last years. Bringing Turkey to a major change in its attitude towards ISIS could not be in the latter's interest right now. Therefore, it is quite unlikely that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's forces will turn against Turkey as long as they need the country to keep up their fight. This is not likely to change.