Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Prime Minister Binali Yildirim at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, January 11, 2017. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)
ISTANBUL, Jan. 11 (Xinhua) -- Turkey cannot overcome a growing wave of terrorist attacks at home while pressing ahead with a military operation in Syria unless ties with neighbors are mended and polarization in society is eliminated, analysts said.
"Turkey must absolutely improve its relations with neighbors as well as the U.S.," said Haldun Solmazturk, director of the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute.
Turkey has been hit over the past one and a half years by about 40 terrorist attacks in urban areas, in which some 500 people lost their lives.
"It is impossible for Turkey to cope with the terrorist attacks of such a massive scale by itself," Solmazturk, a retired general from the Turkish Armed Forces, told Xinhua.
Turkish forces and Ankara-backed Free Syrian Army militants are currently fighting for al-Bab, a Syrian town about 30 km from Turkish border being held by the Islamic State (IS).
Ongoing civil wars in Turkey's southern neighbors, Syria and Iraq, and Turkey's involvement in Syria's raging war by means of offering support to the rebels have left the country more exposed to deadly attacks.
"The way to stop terrorism is to do fine tuning in foreign policy and develop cooperation with the international community," Murat Bilhan, deputy chairman of the Istanbul-based think tank Turkish Asian Center for Strategic Studies, told Xinhua.
The pace of terror attacks by the IS and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) outlawed by Ankara, mostly in the form of car and suicide bombings, has significantly increased over the past month in particular.
Turkey has been rocked by four deadly assaults in cities since Dec. 10.
Turkish security forces have lost over 900 members since fighting resumed with PKK militants in July 2015, shattering a peace process that had lasted for more than two years.
"A fight against terrorism that is not conducted in cooperation with the international community leaves Turkey vulnerable," argued Bilhan, a former diplomat.
Turkey and Syria are on bad terms due to Ankara's support until recently to rebel groups fighting to topple the government and its insistence on the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad even after recognizing his government as legitimate by being part of the recent peace initiative.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim visited Baghdad last weekend in efforts to mend ties with Iraq.
"If Turkey cooperates with neighbors, respects their territorial integrity, then it would be possible to drain the terrorism swamp," Sait Yilmaz, a security and foreign policy analyst, told Xinhua.
Since the start of the so-called Arab Spring, the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been harshly criticized by the opposition for pursuing a sectarian foreign policy not in line with Turkey's best interests.
Ankara launched a military offensive into Syria in August last year to push the IS away from the Turkish border and prevent the emergence of a Kurdish corridor in Syria's north.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has recently maintained that the terrorist attacks are linked with Turkey's military operation in Syria, implying that the U.S. was behind the attacks.
The U.S. is trying to keep Turkey in line by using the terrorist organizations to inflict pain on the country, Erdogan said last week.
The U.S. is known to be against Turkey's military operation in Syria to go south as far as al-Bab.
It is widely claimed by Turkish media and some analysts that Washington is not happy with Turkey's all-out war against the PKK and wants to push Turkey to restart negotiations with the group.
Prime Minister Yildirim drew last week a direct link between the attacks in Turkey and the U.S., saying what the U.S is doing boils down to providing weapons to the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), the military wing of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), for Turkey to suffer more terror attacks.
Ankara regards both the YPG and the PYD as terrorist groups linked to the PKK.
In contrast to Solmazturk and Bilhan, Yilmaz, who taught at various universities in Turkey, believes the U.S. is linked to the rise in terrorism in Turkey.
Arguing that terrorist organizations cannot survive without the backing of a good intelligence organization, Yilmaz stated,
"It's been clear for a long time now that the U.S. is behind the IS and the PKK."
In Yilmaz' opinion, Turkey should consider taking strong measures, including ending U.S.' use of its Incirlik military base in Adana as suggested by top government officials, to dissuade its NATO ally from continuing providing arms to Kurds in Syria, one of the major irritants in bilateral ties.
Washington sees the Syrian Kurdish militias as reliable ground forces in its battle against the IS militants.
Turkey has listed the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, the alleged mastermind of the July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey in which Washington was accused of playing a role as well, and the cessation of cooperation with Syrian Kurds as its two major expectations from U.S. President-elect Donald Trump after he takes over the presidency on Jan. 20.
Turkey is preparing to launch a massive operation against the PKK in spring. Other than three cantons under YPG control in Syria along the Turkish border, the PKK has bases in northern Iraq.
Top Turkish officials have repeatedly vowed that the Turkish troops in Syria will also move forward, after capturing al-Bab, to drive the YPG out of Manbij unless the Kurdish militia forces leave the town on their own accord.
Analysts who spoke to Xinhua advised against any further advance into Syrian territory, saying that could mean more trouble for the troops as well as for Turkey.
"Turkey fell into the U.S.' trap by targeting al-Bab. By doing so, Turkey found itself confronted by two terrorist organizations at the same time, IS and the PKK," argued Yilmaz.
In his view, Turkey should have targeted instead the YPG cantons along the Turkish border for the benefit of its national security.
Around 50 Turkish troops have lost their lives and many more wounded so far in the al-Bab operation.
"Turkey should never think of extending the ongoing operation to Manbij. Going as far down as al-Bab was also a mistake," said Solmazturk.
Warning that Turkey would be facing the opposition of the international community in such a case, he added, "Under the given circumstances, I don't think Turkey has the military and political capacity to extend the operation to Manbij."
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party, also warned last week that the operation should not aim at capturing Manbij after al-Bab, implying that such a move could incur a heavy price for Turkey.
While grappling with a serious terrorism threat, the Turkish society is deeply polarized along several fault lines -- Alevism vs Sunnism, secularists vs Islamists and Kurds vs Turks.
Terrorist groups are seeking to drag the country into civil war by triggering the religious and ethnic fault lines, President Erdogan said in a speech on Monday.
The mass shooting by a foreign IS militant at a nightclub on New Year's Eve in Istanbul was perceived as an attack on secularist life-style by many in Turkey.
In a bid to unite the nation, top government officials have repeatedly said in recent months that Turkey is faced with an existential threat and is leading a new war of independence.
The ruling party's discourse of existential threat is merely aimed at gaining the support of a larger public while hiding the government's own mistakes rather than sincerely bringing the nation together in the face of a common threat, Solmazturk argued.
If it were not the case, the AKP would not be insistent, for fear of further deepening the rift in society, on a shift in the political system that would lead to a one-man rule, he said.
Despite protests by opposition parties, the AKP and Erdogan, who headed the ruling party for years, have been pushing hard to replace the country's parliamentarian democracy with an executive presidential system.
According to the AKP's proposals, which the parliament just began debating, the president will be bestowed with extensive powers, while those of the parliament will be crippled.
The government is taking steps to disrupt the national unity instead of strengthening it, said Solmazturk.
The AKP government, beset by serious problems, is trying to overcome them by getting more authoritarian, remarked Yilmaz, who argued such a step would simply further raise the tension in society.