by Ghassan Kadi

Love him or hate him, Erdogan has been a survivor; a hero for some, and a stick in the mud that would not go away for many more others. He has thus far managed to dodge many serious decisive moments, the last of which was the recent parliamentary elections that he won with flying colours despite the predictions of many analysts, including myself, that he was destined to lose abysmally.

Even though the November elections did not give Erdogan the 66% majority that would enable him to change the constitution, after being in power for more than a decade, his initial domestic financial successes, one would imagine, became plagued by his failed regional gambles in Syria, however, the November elections came to give Erdogan a new lifeline that he himself perhaps did not believe he was going to achieve.

With this win, Erdogan felt invincible. For an Islamist, and this is what Erdogan is, feeling invincible takes on a whole new meaning.

This is a simplistic translation of a Quranic verse: “If God is by your side, no one can defeat you” (Quran 3:160).

Erdogan believes he is invincible because he believes that he is on a mission and that God is by his side. If he had any reason to doubt this divine role he believes he has, the November election results put that doubt to rest.

Many people of different religions believe God is on their side and have done this throughout the ages, but in this age of ISIL, it is rather difficult for a non-Muslim to imagine the impact on an Islamist’s mind to believe that he is invincible because God is on his side. It is seen as a license to do as one pleases, a carte blanche, and a mandate to act at will.

After the downing of the Russian Su-24, many conspiracy theories were proposed, and this is not unusual. The big questions that many analysts and observers tried to, and are still trying to resolve, is what made Erdogan do it and who was behind his decision.

There are two main possibilities; Erdogan either acted on his own accord or in conjunction with a second party. The second party can only be the United States. It cannot be NATO because the European side of NATO is currently bogged down in trying to establish where Europe should place its focus and action in the wake of the Paris attacks. And even though the EU seems to have recently rewarded Turkey by granting it funds to curb the influx of refugees and for making more promises regarding the prospect of Turkey joining the EU, France is adamant about fighting ISIL and Hollande’s recent trip to Moscow and subsequent military involvement in the skies of Syria speak volumes.

Even the UK and Germany have joined the fight, not so much under a Russian umbrella, but the European determination to fight ISIL seems to be gaining momentum.

So did the USA whisper in Erdogan’s ear to make him shoot down a Russian jet?

If the answer is yes, then both parties, ie the USA and Turkey, would have something to gain from this action. Many theories have been put forward in an attempt to explain what America would gain, but in reality, they do not hold any ground at all given that such action can evoke a full-on confrontation between America and Russia.

Even the foolhardy George W Bush would not risk an all-out war with Russia. Why would Obama do it now and for what reason?

Obama had, and still has, his chance to intimidate Putin militarily if he wishes to do so in Ukraine. If anything, any such intimidation would be more effective given the location of Ukraine relative to Russia. So why would America choose Turkey to intimidate Russia if this can be better done in Ukraine? No logical answer can be found, because there isn’t one.

Perhaps some early clues emerged in the outcome of the extraordinary NATO meeting that Turkey asked for almost immediately after shooting down the Russian jet.

The NATO meeting defended Turkey’s right to protect its sovereignty. It is not unusual for an organization like NATO to defend one of its members. The subtle messages however have to be read in between the lines.

The meeting reached the conclusion that this matter was up to Turkey and Russia to resolve. Obama made it much clearer when he said that “Turkey and Russia must talk and de-escalate”.

What must be gleaned from this is that NATO, and of course America, are both distancing themselves from Turkey on this count. If Turkey wants to fight Russia, they are implying, Turkey will have to do this alone. The USA’s refusal to accept Russian evidence on the oil smuggling business between ISIL and Turkey is nothing more than cheap talk. This is not to forget that as the USA refutes such evidence, it is at the same time calling Turkey to close its borders with Syria.

What does this say about the big question as to who was behind the decision to shoot down the Su-24?

There is little doubt that the decision was Turkish and only Turkish.

The self-proclaimed invincible Erdogan has taken yet another huge gamble, believing that God is by his side and that he will defeat the “infidels”.

When Turkey became a NATO member, the world was different, the power structure was different, the ideologies were different, and it is truly a comedy of errors that in the time of global war against Islamic terrorism, Turkey continues to be a NATO member when it is one of the biggest supporters of Islamism. But the West is yet to wake up.

NATO cannot abandon Turkey all out, and there is no reason for it to do so either. That said, there must be some growing European unrest, especially in France, as to how to deal with a NATO member that is clearly supporting ISIL.

Whatever the intricate details within NATO may be and what goes on behind the scenes, Russia knows well that Erdogan stands alone in his offensive. NATO will not support him.

The onus is now on Russia to decide how to deal with the aftermath of the downing of the Su-24. Contrary to the rhetoric of many cynics who see that President Putin has been cornered, in reality, he has many options and he is in the rightful and privileged position to be the one who can make the choice.

One must admit that nearly two weeks after the downing of the Su-24, the mosaic of forces that have come into play is making the situation volatile and requires a lot of wisdom on the part of Russia for it to be contained and prevented from causing a serious escalation.

That said, there is no doubt that Russia holds the key and has the military presence that is most dominant. Russia can respond in many different ways according to her own choosing. In between the extreme options of taking it on the chin and nuking Ankara, and/or having a full-on confrontation with NATO forces in Syria and beyond, Russia has a myriad of choices; all of which can downsize Erdogan putting him in the corner in which he belongs.

It would be shortsighted to even think that the quick punitive measures that Russia took against Turkey are going to be sufficient. Discouraging Russian tourists of visiting Turkey and canceling military cooperation, and even suspending the TurkStream project and other similar measures, hardly constitute what one would put in the basket of a befitting punitive measure given what Turkey has done. It is not about tomato trade as Putin has clearly put it recently.

However, any escalation resulting from a Russian “retaliation” would be unwise, and can lead Russia into a military bog that she does not need.

The deployment of the frigate Moskva with its S-400 arsenal is realistically more of a media stunt and cannot be effective if those highly effective surface-to-air missiles are to be deployed from the Mediterranean against targets in far eastern Syria. After all, even with their enormous 10-Mach plus speed, they become virtually ineffective if used against enemy planes engaged in a dogfight hundreds of kilometers away. Such surface to air missiles will need to be planted alongside the Turkish-Syrian borders. In the meantime, Russian air-to-air missiles will do the job.

Even though individual NATO countries have made presence for themselves in Syria, and even though America is sending troops to Kurdish-controlled Northern Syria, Russia continues to deal with them as partners in the war against ISIL; albeit without a central command that unites them. In reality however, with its surface-to-air, sea-to-air and air-to-air defenses, Russia controls who can and who cannot fly in the skies of Syria.

Moscow and Damascus should therefore “use” those forces for as long as they are bombing ISIS and avoid any confrontation with them at all cost. All the while, Moscow and Damascus should continue with their resolve to free up the Idlib-Aleppo region, which is conveniently close to the Mediterranean and the defense systems bases already on the ground, with a special attention and focus on moving north towards the Turkish borders. This move must be done whilst sticking to two major rules; 1) providing air defense to fighter bombers using interceptor jets which will be ready to shoot down anything that looks least suspicious, and 2) trying hard to avoid any deliberate confrontation not only with NATO, but also with Turkey.

The more Turkish loyal forces currently located in Syria get pushed away north towards Turkey, the more Erdogan is going to feel most intimidated and hurt. Later on, the more the get pushed east, it will hurt Turkey even more.

As Syrian troops supported by Russian air power liberate the Aleppo region, S-400 batteries will need to be deployed in those newly-liberated regions, on the ground, and the push to take land back from the terrorists should move east with more and more S-400 batteries deployed to eventually cover the 1000 Km border line between Syrian and Turkey. There is no better humiliation for Turkey than doing just this, without creating any reason for a major escalation.

Russia must also remain steadfast in her support to her key reliable partner in the war; the Syrian Army.

The world is changing, and Europe is definitely the best place to witness this change. Had Erdogan decided to shoot down a Russian jet prior to the Paris attacks, he might have got some sympathy from his EU partners in NATO, but a lot has changed ever since the Black Friday of Paris, and the European focus is now on fighting terrorism and curbing the influx of refugees with the full knowledge that they will be infiltrated by Islamist terrorists.

If Europe has not woken up to the fact that Turkey is and has been supporting ISIL despite all the evidence, it must surely and finally realized that Turkey is and has been the gate keeper of the so-called Syrian migrants who have been infiltrated by Islamist terrorists. The “bribe” money offered to Erdogan to stop refugees is a testimony of this realization. Unless they are all absolute morons, someone in Europe must at least be beginning to realize that Turkey is not a strategic NATO partner, but rather an Islamist Trojan Horse.

Again, there is little doubt that Erdogan has acted alone. In his action, he is putting much at stake, including a confrontation with Russia at a time that Europe, especially France, is trying to be Russia’s partner in the war against terror, and at a time in which NATO would go out of its way to avoid a direct confrontation with Russia.

Any speculation that Erdogan was pushed by his senior partners is most unlikely.

Back to how Erdogan regards himself as “the” protector of Islam and the “one” whose support comes directly from up above.

As an Islamist first and foremost and a Turkish nationalist second, Erdogan sees himself as the custodian of Islam and Muslims. He is not against ISIL in its ideology and doctrine. He is only sometimes against it when its decisions do not match his own or do not come from his command room.

He has thus far survived tumultuous events domestically, regionally, and internationally.
He managed to fool the Saudis and Qataris and used their funds to establish his own dreams. He now even wants to build a military base in Qatar. He smiles to the Israelis and plays the partner game with them. He has capitalized on the NATO status of Turkey, a status it achieved when Islamist terrorism did not exist and when Turkey was a very secular country. He smiles to the Iranians and even struck huge business deals with Russia. Many find him hard to understand, because they do not really look at his Islamist agenda.

Despite many policy failures, he is still standing. A survivor he may well be, but Erdogan will eventually fall on his sword.

In downing the Su-24, it is highly likely that he has finally bitten much more than he can chew. This is potentially the mistake of his life that will bring him tumbling down.

Give any megalomaniac enough rope, and he will hang himself. Erdogan is no exception.

The Essential Saker: from the trenches of the emerging multipolar world