The freeing of 49 Turkish hostages by the militant Islamist group ISIS was not a swap of prisoners. The Turkish military had a plan - risky but still possible - to liberate them but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davotuglu rejected it, writes Professor Dr Amatzia Baram.
Professor Baram believes this was because they did not want the army to take credit. The deal struck with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was much more to the president and his party’s liking: hostages for financial support, through the illicit sale of oil from ISIS.
The Turkish National Intelligence Organisation (MIT), under its chief and Mr Erdogan’s close friend, Hakan Fidan, is managing the oil smuggling operations. These total 100,000 to 150,000 barrels a day at a cost of US$30-50 per barrel. Some businessmen in the Gulf are also involved in ISIS oil sales through their links with Turkey’s intelligence service.
ISIS controls oil extraction and processing facilities in Syria and Iraq. These help finance ISIS activities. ISIS could use some of the oil itself and the rest must be smuggled in smaller quantities, as a boycott is in place and ISIS is surrounded by enemies.
The US and their allies are now bombing these facilities, but it appears that Turkey has allowed this smuggling to take place.
The US is furious about Turkeys' role. Alan Lowenthal, a member of the House foreign affairs subcommittee for combating terrorism, has just begun discussing economic sanctions against anyone financially supporting terrorist organisations. This is clearly aimed at Turkey in the first place and possibly also at Qatar. Maybe this will do the trick and change the Turkish leadership’s policies.
President Erdogan announced that his ISIS-related policy is about to change when he returned to Turkey from the US on September 26. But he was not specific. The Turkish parliament will debate the issue on October 2, and then decide to implement the policy, whatever it is. But it seems that the president and his prime minister are in no great hurry.