ISTANBUL — Turkey has pledged support for a military strike against Syria. It has a crucial air base used by the U.S. and has a formidable air force. But the country's opposition parties are against joining a military operation targeting Syria, and, according to opinion polls, the public remains deeply skeptical of getting involved in the conflict.
The Turkish government has been at the forefront of demands that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad be held to account for last month’s alleged chemical weapons attack.
Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels, says Turkey would be a strong U.S. ally in any action Washington takes against Damascus. But he also warns that differences remain.
"Turkey is very supportive of the idea to punish Assad and his regime for his use of chemical weapons. The difference being that Turkey wants the strike to be much more ambitious, so that it would help with the objective of ousting of Assad from power," says Ulgen.
President Barack Obama has said any strike against Syria would be limited in scope and would not seek to remove the regime. Despite such differences, Semih Idiz, a diplomatic columnist for the Turkish newspaper Taraf, says Ankara will support a U.S.-led operation against Syria. He says, however, that such support may be limited.
"Foreign Minister [Ahmet] Davutoglu has said Turkey would be willing to take part in a coalition of the willing, should it be established. But there is a very serious question as to whether Turkey can actually take part in any military operations against Syria. The idea is very unpopular amongst the public in Turkey [and] with the opposition, who claims it has to be mandated by parliament, and there is no such mandate. And most analysts believe [Turkey] won’t take part militarily; that it will provide logistic supports, mainly through the bases that the Americans have in Turkey, like Incirlik," says Idiz.
Located close to the Syrian border, Turkey's Incirlik air base has been used by U.S. forces for decades. But even allowing the use of its airspace and bases for any potential U.S. strike carries inherent risks for Turkey, according to Kadri Gursel, diplomatic columnist for the Turkish newspaper Milliyet. He says Ankara is concerned that a limited U.S. military operation leaves open the specter of Syrian retaliation.
"There two kinds of possible retaliations. One is terrorism, which [was] proved in May - the worst terrorist attack in Turkish modern history, in Reyhanli. And also, theoretically and militarily speaking, Turkey is a target of [the] Syrian chemical arsenal," says Gursel.
The Turkish government blamed Damascus for May’s car bomb attacks that destroyed the town center in Reyhanli, close to the Syrian border. The blasts killed more than 50 people. Concerns over possible future attacks were heightened last month, when local media claimed Turkish authorities had detained two Syrians carrying large amounts of explosives while they were attempting to enter Turkey from Syria.
Diplomatic columnist Idiz warns any U.S. attack on Syria is likely to result in a strong public reaction in Turkey, especially if Ankara participates.
"The Turkish public has always been against Western intervention in Islamic countries, and especially in the Middle East. We will have demonstrations in Turkey; I think we might see the riot police on the streets again. Already, we have seen opposition channels and newspapers in a way inciting that possibility, should the strikes go ahead," says Idiz.
This past June saw some of Turkey's worst anti-government protests in decades, sparked by dissatisfaction with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's style of leadership. Ankara’s policy of supporting the Syrian rebels, according to opinion polls, is already deeply unpopular, even among government supporters. Analysts warn the Turkish government could pay a high price for any support it gives to U.S.-led strikes against Syria, should they occur.