As President Obama builds an international coalition against ISIS, one regional power has been playing a conspicuously small role: Turkey. A NATO ally with a regionally powerful military, Turkey also occupies significant strategic location. But, though Ankara has belatedly start to interdict men and materiel flowing over its borders to ISIS, it neither has taken nor is expected to take a stronger military role against the group.There are many possible sources of Turkish non-involvement. Viewing the world through a Neo-Ottoman lens, Erdogan and Davutoglu have tended since the early days of the Syrian Civil War to see Assad as a greater threat than Sunni radical groups, for instance.But as Erdogan recognizes the threat ISIS poses, one possible reason is gaining greater attention: hostages. During the fall of Mosul, ISIS seized and has held dozens of Turkish diplomats hostage. Now, the terror group may be holding them hostage against Turkey’s non-involvement. As Al-Monitor reports:
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu have cited “delicate and complex negotiations” for the release of the hostages, but have divulged little else. The government has also used this argument to slap an injunction on reporting about the topic.But the distraught families of the hostages in Turkey are increasingly angry and frustrated, and claim the government is not doing enough. They also have to contend with suggestions their loved ones may already have been killed. Daily reports about IS atrocities merely fuel these concerns…Erdogan continues to argue that he has to tread cautiously so as not to put the hostages in danger. “No one should expect me to provoke [IS],” he said in June when blasting critics accusing him of passivity toward this group.
ISIS’ hostage-taking is a problem with few good solutions, and certainly other countries have struggled with it—European nations, for instance, have been paying ransoms so large that they are a significant source of ISIS’ funding. Rescue operations are always risky. But on the eve of a major military operation, when America is trying to rally NATO allies against a common enemy, significant national and international interests may be hinging on what Turkey does next.