The Re-Emergence of the Zero-Problems Policy? Don't Get Your Hopes Up

By Dr. Shay Hershkovitz Wikistrat's Chief Strategy Officer and Adjunct Professor at the Department of Political Science at Tel-Aviv University

The January 12 terror attack in Istanbul was the latest in a series that began last July at the border city of Suruç and continued in October within Ankara's city center. However, this most recent attack can be considered to be fundamentally different. The two previous attacks were aimed at specific groups (the Kurds and human rights activists), while this week's attack was aimed at Western tourists. This attack therefore demonstrates consistency in the strategy of ISIS. The downing of a Russian plane in Sinai last October, the November attacks in Paris, and even the December shooting in San Bernardino demonstrate this deadly organization's commitment, by inspiration or coordination, to a global jihad against the West.

Now that the current Turkish administration has become the target, and that Turkey has become a potential battlefield for ISIS, the recent attack might represent a game changer for Ankara. Turkey's revenue from travel and tourism account for around 12 percent of the country's GDP - a substantial figure. In 2015, Turkey already witnessed a 2.5 percent decline in tourism revenues due to security concerns. Furthermore, the growing tension between Turkey and other regional powers, most notably Russia and Iran, forces Ankara to reorient its geopolitical policy.

After several years in which Ankara turned its back on Western powers and demonstrated a stubborn and uncooperative foreign policy, it needs to reassess its relationship with the West. Chief among these efforts needs to be the rehabilitation of its relations with Egypt and Israel, as well as the redirection of its economy from involvement with Russia to involvement with the EU and the United States. However, it is likely that such recalibration will be only for the short term.

Indeed, these developments present a good opportunity for the West - most notably the United States. However, Washington needs to understand what stands behind the Turkish motivations and not make errors deriving from unrealistic expectations. Erdoğan's Turkey still sees ISIS as a context-specific problem linked primarily to the events in Syria. On the other hand, the U.S. sees ISIS as a regional - if not global - problem.

As for Russia, it is highly unlikely that Turkey can maintain tense relations with the superpower over the long term, especially if Ankara would like to have substantial influence in the Syrian theatre. With regard to Iran, Turkey still sees the Islamic Republic as a potential threat - especially since Turkey has joined the Saudi-led Sunni coalition in Syria. Iran has the potential not only to turn into another problematic neighbor (in case it allows Kurds to cross the joint border and move to Turkey) but also to become a regional economic rival shortly following the removal of sanctions as part of the nuclear deal. Finally, Erdoğan remains Erdoğan - that is, a political figure that too often lets his ego control his actions.

The current events indeed push Turkey to present a more cooperative face to the West. However, its primary concerns are specifically inked to the Syrian and Kurdish problems - and given Erdoğan's aspirations (and personality), it is unlikely we will see the re-adoption of the zero- problems policy over the long run, especially with the West.