June 30, 2016 | New York Post
Airport attack should have come as no surprise to Turkey
The attack on Istanbul’s airport was horrific. It was also steeped in irony. Istanbul’s airport is the overwhelming destination of choice for aspiring jihadists around the world who wish to join the Islamic State.
Once they land in Istanbul, these wannabe fighters head east and then cross the porous border into Syria. Until recently, the Turkish government turned a blind eye to the problem. In other words, the Ataturk Airport attack was blowback.
Admittedly, the Turks have done a better job recently. But the problem remains.
The eastern frontier is still the place where jihadi fighters go to join the fray. Press reports also suggests that money and weapons have found their way from Turkey to jihadists on the other side of the border. Other reports suggest the Islamic State and other jihadist groups have sold oil and antiquities to Turkish middlemen, meaning that Turkey’s eastern border is a hotbed of illicit financial activity that benefits the very people that carried out Monday night’s attack.
To fight the Islamic State more effectively, we need to set things straight with our wayward NATO ally. This government mistakenly believed that opening up its border to jihadists would hasten the downfall of the Assad regime and counterbalance Kurdish militants. It’s also a government that challenged Washington’s classification of the Nusra Front, an al Qaeda affiliate, as a terrorist group. It should come as no surprise that Turkey also harbors figures from other extremist groups, including about a dozen senior Hamas operatives.
Our immediate task is to push the Turks to completely seal the southeastern border. They need to crack down on terror financiers and middlemen, too. We can make this easier by addressing Ankara’s legitimate concerns about the Assad regime. But troubling questions remain as to whether Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an avowed Islamist, is the right partner for the job.
Jonathan Schanzer is Vice President for Research at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @JSchanzer.