Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish President, is reportedly considering offering his country’s backing, “both military and political”, to the US-led campaign against Isis. If that support is given, the chances will improve greatly of defeating the jihadist group – a defeat that American air strikes alone are unlikely to secure.
It is easy to understand Turkey’s reluctance thus far to commit to the Western and Arab alliance, and it is a gross misrepresentation to portray its government as a secret sympathiser with the extremists. Unlike America, a safe 6,000 miles distant, and the Gulf states that have joined the air campaign, Turkey has hundreds of miles of porous border with the swathes of Syrian and Iraqi territory now controlled by Isis.
Because of its hostility to the Assad regime from the outset of Syria’s civil war, Ankara has moreover provided help and sanctuary since 2011 to all opponents of that regime, including a million-plus refugees, whose number inevitably contains supporters of what has metastasised into Isis. As a result, the latter has a de facto presence in Turkey. If President Erdogan unleashes what is Nato’s second-largest army against the jihadists, it could tip the military balance decisively – but at the obvious risk of bloody acts of terrorist reprisal in Turkish cities.
Nonetheless, Turkey’s clear interest is to see Isis eliminated. No country can be comfortable living next door to a group whose savagery knows no bounds, committed to the overthrow of secular regimes like the one in Ankara, and whose ideology is loathed by the vast majority of the Turkish people.
With the release last week of the 49 Turkish prisoners held by Isis since it overran the Iraqi city of Mosul in June – probably under a prisoner exchange between the two sides – Mr Erdogan’s hands are now freer. It is time for him to throw his country’s weight into the fight against Isis, a threat to the entire region, and not least to Turkey itself.