Shortly before his party voted against the motion – which passed 298-98 – the deputy leader of the secularist opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Faruk Logoglu, said the government was using ISIS as a pretext “to engage in armed confrontation with the Syrian regime.”
“This motion is the result of an adventurous foreign policy,” he said. “We should all vote against it.”
The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party also opposed the measure, saying the government did not really want to fight ISIS and accusing it of turning a blind eye to jihadist recruitment in Turkey.
Another CHP deputy, Akif Hamzacebi, said the motion would “drag Turkey into the fire,” because it was designed not to fight against ISIS but the Assad regime.
He pointed to a speech to parliament the previous day in which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would fight ISIS, but that the Assad regime must be toppled too, as any solution that did not include its ousting would be a temporary one.
“"We are open and ready for any cooperation in the fight against terrorism,” Erdogan said. “However, it should be understood by everybody that Turkey is not a country in pursuit of temporary solutions nor will Turkey allow others to take advantage of it.”
Turkey is housing some 1.5 refugees from the Syrian conflict and wants to see Assad gone.
Like some of the Arab partners in the anti-ISIS coalition, Ankara worries that airstrikes against the jihadists inside Syria will strengthen the regime by weakening one of its more effective foes. U.S. officials have largely been reluctant to acknowledge that Assad stands to benefit from the military action against ISIS.
Prioritizing Assad’s removal would put NATO member Turkey at odds with the Obama administration, which wants the coalition to focus on ISIS in both Syria and Iraq, and insists the Syrian conflict can only be resolved politically.
When he laid out his anti-ISIS strategy on September 10, President Obama made the customary comments about Assad’s illegitimacy, but drew a distinction between pursuing a military response to the terrorist group, and a “political solution” to the Syrian civil war.
After State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki at a briefing Thursday welcomed the Turkish vote, saying it indicated that “they want to play a more prominent role with the coalition,” she was asked whether the U.S. was “on the same page with the Turkish leadership in terms of the priorities in this fight.”
“I think Turkey, from all of our discussions with them, certainly understands the threat posed by ISIL,” she said.
Following the parliamentary vote, Iran warned Turkey not to do anything that could worsen tensions in the region, according to Tehran’s state news agency IRNA.
Since Iran opposes ISIS, it might have been expected to welcome signs that the well-resourced Turkish military would join the fight against the terrorist group. But Iran is also Assad’s number one supporter, so the warning – in a phone conversation between Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke and his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu – implied that it, too, is suspicious about Turkey’s priorities in Syria.
The motion passed by Turkey’s lawmakers is in part merely an extension of a broad existing mandate, first passed two years ago.
Defense Minister Ismet Ylmaz said before the vote that its passage did not mean military action is imminent, reiterating that Turkey’s priorities include establishing a no-fly zone and a safe haven on the Syrian side of the border. Yilmaz also underlined the government’s view that the regime was “the source of the chaos raging in Syria.”
What is significant in the motion is that it also gives permission for the deployment of foreign troops on Turkish soil.
There has been no word yet on whether Turkey’s cooperation will include allowing the use of the Incirlik air base, a NATO facility well-positioned to launch airstrikes against ISIS strongholds in northern Syria.
Retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, the special presidential envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition, is scheduled to visit Turkey next week, towards the end of a trip that will take him to several Middle Eastern and European countries to build on the effort.
Interviewed on CNN before his departure Wednesday, he was asked about Turkey’s stance on Incirlik.
“We’ve talked about that with them, but again, let’s let them make the decision and come back to us,” Allen said. “It’s part of the conversation right now.”