Turkey feels relatively more relieved after it liberated the 49 hostages from the Turkish Consulate from the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) with a masterful intelligence operation. This enabled Turkey to talk more clearly about participation in the U.S.-led coalition to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Just before going to the U.S. last week, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave the first sign of this saying that Turkey would revise its stance against ISIS. During the talks in the U.S. as well, Erdoğan remarked that he was pleased with the steps taken by the coalition against ISIS, meaning that Turkey would play a role in the anti-ISIS operations. This was clarified even further when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that Turkey would play a "leading role" in the coalition.
Turkey's participation in the coalition, however, will not be the same as that of other coalition members as it is not a country that is indirectly affected by the clashes like the U.S. and EU countries. It is, rather, a country that feels the impact of turmoil in the Middle East much deeper than all the other coalition countries. The economic, political and sociological impacts of conflict in Syria and Iraq are no longer measurable for Turkey. As a country with a border of 911 kilometers with Syria, it is possible to view the conflict between ISIS and Kurds in northern Syria with binoculars from southern Turkey. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees coming from cities attacked by ISIS or where the coalition shells ISIS positions, can flock to Turkey just in a night. We experienced this when a total of 130,000 Syrian Kurds entered Turkey on Sept. 22. Turkey opened its doors to these people so they would not have to face the violence at home. Thus, the number of Syrians taking refuge in Turkey has reached 1.5 million, while the money spent for them has hit $4 billion (TL 9.2 billion). The UN's assistance for refugees has only been $160 million so far. Some may turn a blind eye to this reality; however, this is the true picture that Turkey faces.
It is obvious that the U.S.-led coalition will diversify and exacerbate the clashes further, which means more refugees and more uncertainty for Turkey. Ankara is reacting to what is happening at its doorstep. The coalition marked a draft plan by revising the operation plan in line with the U.S.'s own interests and requirements. That draft plan may not correspond to the expectations of all coalition members, and even more, it may be much more comprehensive than the whole coalition knows. However, Turkey feels obliged to take this step to protect its borders, which are in jeopardy more than ever. Turkey's plan has the characteristics of being a package of measures taken against things yet to happen in its neighborhood. Ankara demands a no-flight zone to hamper Bashar al-Assad and ISIS from posing a threat to the civilian population and opposition forces in northern Syria. This no-flight zone, which corresponds to a buffer zone on land, will be formed by coalition forces.
A buffer zone, which may reach a width of 30 kilometers on the Syrian side of the border, will protect Turkey from uncertainty and instability created by refugee migration. Thus, ISIS will not be able to pose a risk to Turkey, and Syrians escaping ISIS offensives will be settled there. Moreover, some Syrian refugees in Turkey could be moved to this zone. Thus, the social pressure from the crisis in Syria on Turkey will be diminished. Perhaps, what is more important than all of this is that Turkey will take Kurds living in northern Syria under protection to prevent developments that can endanger the reconciliation process, which is on a vulnerable ground.
This well-studied and plausible plan has two risks though. The first is that the U.S. and other members of the coalition have never fulfilled their promises to Turkey regarding Syria, and it is not guaranteed that they will leave Turkey alone once again. The second, establishing a buffer zone will require a confrontation with ISIS on land and force them to move south, which may trigger an armed conflict.