On Tuesday evening, three terrorists opened fire at innocent civilians at Istanbul's Atatürk International Airport, Europe's third-largest travel hub, and blew themselves up, killing at least 41 people. Officials announced that more than a dozen victims were foreign nationals. The shocking assault, which bears striking similarities to the terrorist attack at Brussels Airport earlier this year, shows that Turkey's Western allies have little interest in actually helping the frontline state in the war on DAESH. Instead, the Turkish government has rightfully decided to pursue regional alliances in response to the threat of terrorism.
Terrorism struck Turkey several times over the past year. In addition to suicide attacks and car bombings in Istanbul, Ankara, Bursa, Gaziantep and Suruç, the country suffered losses due to the PKK's return to violence last year. Since July 2015, more than 500 police officers and soldiers have lost their lives in the war on terror. During the same period, hundreds of innocent civilians were killed in PKK and DAESH assaults.
In the past, Turkish leaders repeatedly urged their European allies and the United States to take concrete steps against terrorism. Aside from offering their condolences, Western nations have largely ignored the challenges Turkey faces. There were no solidarity marches, nor did the West take genuine steps to cooperate with Turkey against terrorism. All we got from Europe was ignorant criticism about our anti-terrorism laws.
What Turkey's Western allies tend to ignore is that terrorists are not just enemies of European countries or the United States. In fact, Turkish Islam represents an existential threat to DAESH's twisted interpretation of the peaceful faith. In recent months, the group issued a fatwa calling for the targeting of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whom they consider an infidel. But this historic battle over the future of Islam goes largely unnoticed, including by fellow Muslims around the world.
Another problem relates to the West's priorities. Many experts in Europe and the United States falsely mistake defeating DAESH or stopping the influx of Syrian refugees as their ultimate goal. But our real job is to rebuild two failed states, Iraq and Syria, and make sure they are capable of addressing security challenges in their countries. To create a lasting solution to pressing problems, we must de-escalate the situation in Syria by removing Bashar Assad's regime from power and help Syrians create a representative government.
Finally, Western pundits tend to ignore Turkey's legitimate concerns about the PKK and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) by claiming that DAESH poses a much more serious threat to Turkish citizens. Accordingly, they argue that Turkey should not object to Western support for the PYD's People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in northern Syria. But in truth, we cannot afford to backtrack on this total war on terror, precisely because both organizations desperately want to destroy our way of life. Over the past year, the security forces and Turkish intelligence had to multi-task due to the dual threats from PKK and DAESH terrorism. The PKK in particular has perpetrated numerous attacks in Turkey since returning to violence last year and has inevitably weakened the country's defense against DAESH. Instead of jumping to conclusions about what Turkey wants, Western leaders should offer genuine support to the country in a number of areas, including intelligence sharing.
Yesterday's attack took place hours after Turkey announced exciting news about rapprochement with Israel and renewed dialogue with Russia. While terrorism experts rightfully maintain that such a complex assault takes a long time to plan, it is still noteworthy that terrorists decided to take action and implement their plans at a time when the Turkish government is moving to mend fences with crucial players in the region.
However, the terrorist attack in Istanbul must not make Turkey have second thoughts about rapprochement with Russia or Israel. Quite the contrary, we must double down on the current diplomatic push to work more closely with regional allies, including Egypt. Provided that the international coalition and NATO proved unwilling to take Turkey's concerns seriously, we have no choice but to find a meaningful alternative.
What happened in Istanbul on Tuesday evening represents an effort by DAESH to punish Turkey for being a frontline state in the fight against it. The fatal explosions were a direct response to Turkey's crackdown on DAESH networks and counterterrorism efforts across its southern border. Provided that joining the international coalition was a long-term commitment, Turkey deserves a long-term commitment from the West. Failing to secure European and U.S. support, Turkey have no choice but to rely on prominent players in its neighborhood.