Turkey’s Unsustainable Politics in the Middle East

by RAMZY BAROUD

‘Confused’ may be an appropriate term to describe Turkey’s current foreign policy in the Middle East and Israel in particular. The source of that confusion – aside from the appalling violence in Syria and earlier in Libya – is Turkey’s own mistakes.

The Turkish government’s inconsistency regarding Israel highlights earlier discrepancy in other political contexts. There was a time when Turkey’s top foreign policy priority included reaching out diplomatically to Arab and Muslim countries. Then, we spoke of a paradigm shift, whereby Ankara was repositioning its political center, reflecting perhaps economic necessity, but also cultural shifts within its own society. It seemed that the East vs. West debate was skillfully being resolved by politicians of the Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, along with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, appeared to have obtained a magical non-confrontational approach to Turkey’s historic political alignment. ‘The Zero Problems’ policy allowed Turkey to brand itself as a bridge between two worlds. The country’s economic growth and strategic import to various geopolitical spheres allowed it to escape whatever price meted out by Washington and its European allies as a reprimand for its bold political moves – including Erdogan’s unprecedented challenge of Israel.

Indeed, there was a link between the growing influence of Turkey among Arab and Islamic countries and Turkey’s challenge to Israel’s violent behavior in Palestine and Lebanon, and its rattling against Syria and Iran. Turkey’s return to its political roots was unmistakable, yet interestingly, was not met by too strong an American response. Washington couldn’t simply isolate Ankara and the latter shrewdly advanced its own power and influence with that knowledge in mind. Even the bizarre anti-Turkish statements by Israeli officials sounded more like incoherent rants than actual foreign policy.

Political arrogance and US-financed military strength are two pillars by which Israel maintains its clout in the region. The first was childishly applied when then Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon publicly snubbed Turkey’s Ambassador Ahmet Oguz Celikkol in January 2010 by placing him on a lower sofa, then asked Israeli journalists to take note of the insult. The second came in May 2010 when Israeli commandos descended on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, and killed nine Turkish citizens in cold blood.

‘Idiocy’ is how Israeli columnist Uri Avnery described Israel’s behavior towards Turkey, which was once one of Israel’s most vital allies. But idiocy has little to do with it and Turkey knew that well. Israel wished to send strong messages to the Turks, that its strategic and political maneuvering was of no use here and that Israel would continue to reign supreme in the face of Erdogan’s ambitious policies. The real ‘idiocy’ was Israel’s miscalculations, which failed to take into account that such behavior could only speed up Turkey’s political transformation. The fact that the US was losing its once unchallenged grip over the fate of the Middle East had also contributed to Turkey’s sudden rise as a country with far-reaching ties and long-term political vision. Erdogan quickly rose to prominence. His responses to Israel’s provocations and to what was essentially a declaration of war came in the form of strong words and measured actions. He conditioned any rapprochement with Israel on a clear apology over its transgressions, compensations to the victims and the families of the dead, and ending the siege on Gaza. The last condition further highlighted Turkey’s new political priorities.

As far as Turkey’s regional ascendency was concerned, it mattered little whether Israel apologized. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was losing favor, even with his own allies in Washington. And unlike Washington, under the thumb of the pro-Israeli lobby, Ankara was a country with independent foreign policy.

When AKP triumphed in Turkey’s elections in June 2011, the so-called Arab Spring was still in its early stages. Then, much hope was placed on the rise of popular movements in countries that have been disfigured by Arab dictators and their Western benefactors. Not only did the ruling party disregard the fact that Turkey had taken part of the old political structure in the Middle East, it also escaped them that Turkey was an important member of NATO which unleashed a terrible war on Libya on March 19, deliberately misinterpreting UN Security Council Resolution 1973. Yes, Turkey had resisted the war option at first, but was quick to forgive and forget and eventually recognized and supported its political outcome. Thanks to the war, Libya is now in a permanent state of bedlam.

Erdogan’s victory speech in June 2011 attempted to paint a new picture of reality, future prospects and Turkey’s proposed role in all of this. “I greet with affection the peoples of Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Amman, Cairo, Tunis, Sarajevo, Skopje, Baku, Nicosia and all other friends and brother peoples who are following the news out of Turkey with great excitement,” Erdogan said. “Today, the Middle East, the Caucasus and the Balkans have won as much as Turkey.”

But that ‘win’ was short-lived. The euphoria of change created many blind spots, one of which is that conflicts of sectarian and ethnic nature – as in Syria – don’t get resolved overnight; that foreign military intervention, direct or by proxy, can only espouse protracted conflict. Indeed, it was in Syria that Turkey’s vision truly fumbled. It was obvious that many were salivating over the outcome of a Syrian war between a brutal regime and a self-serving, divided opposition, each faction espousing one foreign agenda or another. Suddenly, Turkey’s regional and global ambitions of justice and morality grew ever more provisional because of fear of chaos spilling over to its border areas, the tragic rise of the number of Syrian refugees at Turkey’s borders and the fear of a strong Kurdish presence in northern Syria.

Not even capable Turkish politicians could hide the confusion in which they found themselves. Responding to Israel’s bombing of Gaza last November, which killed and wounded hundreds of Palestinians, Erdogan described Israel as a ‘terrorist state.’ “Those who turn a blind eye to discrimination toward Muslims in their own countries, are also closing their eyes to the savage massacre of innocent children in Gaza. … Therefore, I say Israel is a terrorist state.”

But even then, discussions were underway regarding the text of an Israeli apology to Turkey over the Mavi Marmara attack. That apology had finally arrived as an undeserved gift to US President Barack Obama, who visited Israel in March with a message of total support for Israel.

“In light of Israel’s investigation into the incident which pointed to a number of operational mistakes, the Prime Minister expressed Israel’s apology to the Turkish people for any mistakes that might have led to the loss of life or injury and agreed to conclude an agreement on compensation/non-liability,” Netanyahu’s apology read. No commitment regarding Gaza was made. Erdogan’s office responded: “Erdogan told Binyamin Netanyahu that he valued centuries-long strong friendship and cooperation between the Turkish and Jewish nations.” According to Netanyahu, the apology over the ‘operational mistakes’ had everything to do with the need to share intelligence over Syria between both of the countries’ militaries. To balance out Turkey’s hurried retreat to its old political foreign policy, Erdogan is reportedly planning to visit Gaza in April.

“We will take on a more effective role. We will call, as we have, for rights in our region, for justice, for the rule of law, for freedom and democracy,” were the resounded words of Erdogan following his party’s elections victory last year.

It is likely that Ankara will try to maintain a balanced position, but, as Erdogan himself knows, in issues of morality and justice, middle stances are simply untenable.

Ramzy Baroud is editor of PalestineChronicle.com. He is the author of The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle  and  “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is: ramzybaroud.net

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Geoffrey McDonald
Obama’s Overtime Tweak: What is the Fair Price of a Missed Life?
Brian Cloughley
Hypocrisy, Obama-Style
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
A Day of Tears: Report from the “sHell No!” Action in Portland
Tom Clifford
Guns of August: the Gulf War Revisited
Renee Lovelace
I Dream of Ghana
Colin Todhunter
GMOs: Where Does Science Begin and Lobbying End?
Ben Debney
Modern Newspeak Dictionary, pt. II
Christopher Brauchli
Guns Don’t Kill People, Immigrants Do and Other Congressional Words of Wisdom
S. Mubashir Noor
India’s UNSC Endgame
Ellen Taylor
The Voyage of the Golden Rule
Norman Ball
Ten Questions for Lee Drutman: Author of “The Business of America is Lobbying”
Franklin Lamb
Return to Ma’loula, Syria
Masturah Alatas
Six Critics in Search of an Author
Mark Hand
Cinéma Engagé: Filmmaker Chronicles Texas Fracking Wars
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Patrick Hiller
The Icebreaker and #ShellNo: How Activists Determine the Course
Charles Larson
Tango Bends Its Gender: Carolina De Robertis’s “The Gods of Tango”