Turkey the New Regional Bully


    Many of us have had a chance at school to see a bully fighting. Most of the fights of a bully are pretty short lived, as most people would prefer not to stand up and either avoid them all together or take a token beating and hope that it would be the end of it. However every now and then there is something a little different in the form of a victim that does not play by the rules. Sometimes the victim refuses to give up and it seems that the beatings are ineffective, as they keep getting back up and would not submit or show the expected respect towards the bully. In the latter example, most of the bystanders wonder why the victim is not doing the smart thing and playing by the rules, rather than potentially harming themselves even more. Currently the same playground behaviour could be seen on a country level with Turkey playing the part of the bully and Israel the victim.

    There are plenty of theories behind Turkey’s new foreign policy. One theory claims that the PM Erdogan and his Foreign Minister Davutoglu are strict Muslims and believe that their policy towards Israel and Syria is a result of being good Muslims, reaching out for their fellow Sunnis.  Another theory is that in order for the government to gain domestic support, they use the lowest common denominator, which is sympathy to the Palestinians by invoking anti-Israel feelings and focusing on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Another theory is that Turkey has realized that they are not going to be part of the exclusive EU club and have turned their attention to regional dominance.

    As often in politics the answer is not simple and not one dimensional as some of the mainstream media often like to portray, in order to make their message easy to understand. In fact, reality lays somewhere between all the theories.

    When the crisis between Turkey and Israel increased in the beginning of 2011, some Israeli Media speculated that this is merely the AKP’s election strategy to collect votes and the attitude towards Israel would gradually improve following the imminent victory (AKP needed not just to win the election, rather gather a great enough majority to push some constitutional changes). Needless to say, this turned out to be a wrong assumption, as the relationship is deteriorating at its fastest pace following the AKP’s victory.

    The second theory regarding the EU turning away from Turkey is not an invalid point, as it is factually true. However with the Euro suffering a financial crisis, Turkey could be only grateful for not getting into this sick bed previously, where their investment would go towards stabilizing the PIGS countries’ economies (especially hated Greece) as well as other countries bound to go into crisis. So in reality, not entering the EU could be spun to the public as a victory of good economics and clever forecasting and the advantage of seeing the EU when it is at a low point, could be leveraged to join under even better conditions.

    The third theory implies that Turkey is trying to become a regional leader. Once again the theory consist of true facts, however the actions in the political arena are not fully supportive of the theory. It is true that Israel bashing is an easy target to gain acceptance in the Middle East and because of Muslim doctrine, any country with a Muslim community would always find followers that disagree with the concept of a Jewish state in the heart of the Middle East. However any country wishing to truly become a regional leader, must maintain a relationship with the West and currently this relationship goes through Israel as well as the USA. Iran is a perfect example of a country with a powerful army, influence in many Middle East countries, but that has been blacklisted by the West and therefore finding it difficult to turn its influence to official state relations and become a policy maker in the region.

    So what is behind Turkey’s changes of policy?

    Since winning the elections the AKP has had a disastrous result to their foreign policy. The leading guide for the Turkish policy has been making friends with all their regional neighbours. Turkey declared that it seeks to have all the countries onside, avoiding any conflict. However, reality could not be further from this aspiration. Despite a very lenient attitude towards Iran regarding the nuclear program in early 2010, which enraged the USA as well as Saudi Arabia and UAE, Turkey and Iran are not seeing eye to eye over the response to the crisis in Syria and Iran as a result has given Turkey the cold shoulder.

    Syria, which was the cause of the conflict between Iran and Turkey has also changed its tune very quickly about Turkey. Despite the new Turkish closeness, after snubbing Israel, it completely ignored Turkey’s requests to reform and cease the violence and even made things worse by the impact of the refugees on Turkey. In the last week, Turkey’s foreign minister referred to Asad publicly as a liar, who cannot be trusted. This left Turkey without a military ally and made it realize that it did not have as much as influence as it may have thought.

    However, Iran and Syria were not the only disasters to Turkey’s policy, the long running dispute with Greece over North Cypress has not improved, rather reignited over Greece’s oil exploration in waters, which Turkey does not recognize as Greek. The situation has become so volatile that Turkey has threatened to send war ships over to territorial waters, once Cypress starts searching for natural resources. 

    During Erodgan’s reign the claim of genocide to the Armenian people by the Ottoman empire during WW1 has been brought up again, just adding more to the government headache and causing potential tension for the roughly 50, 000 Armenian citizens in Turkey.

    Domestically Turkey has not done too well either, while Erdogan tried to reach out to the Kurds in the country, or at least declared reaching out as his policy, it was still illegal for some Kurdish candidates to run for office, which amongst other reasons caused the conflict to intensify manifesting itself by repeated attacks by the Kurds militant groups on the Turkish army and resulting in Turkey bombing the Kurdish posts in Turkey as well as North Iraq and there doesn’t seem to be an end to this uprising.

    Besides quarrelling with nearly all of its neighbours, Turkey has just recently threatened to freeze its relationship with the EU, if it goes ahead to appoint Cypress as the temporary president of the EU. There is still not much detail on the way in which the relationship would be frozen, however, losing more European tourists as well as trade suffering would not be well received in Turkey.

    In Turkey, the opposition has also increased the pressure, claiming that the AKP’s foreign policy is a complete disaster and the country is slowly becoming isolated despite its goal to get along with everyone. The current government knows that in order to stay in the ring until things get better, it needs to fight back and restore its dominance. The one powerful punch it could give, in order to restore its dignity amongst the Arab world and its home voters was to demand an apology from Israel and show that it still calls the shots in the Middle East. However, despite all chances and everything Israel has to lose, it refused to capitulate. And if that wasn’t enough, the Palmer report has mainly sided with Israel claiming their blockade of Gaza is legal and that they have the right to intercept any ship trying to break it.

    Since Israel’s refusal Turkey has lost complete control, which is the part where the bully understands that the game has changed and he does not have the upper hand. Turkey has since kicked out the Israeli ambassador, declared the UN report (commissioned by the Secretary General) as wrong and irrelevant. It added that the next flotilla would be escorted by Turkish warships, which is just short of declaring war on a NATO partner country. After little impact, Turkey also declared that it intends to cut government and military trade with Israel, as well as support the Palestinians cause in the UN, take Israel to the Human Rights Court in the Hague over its conduct during the flotilla and plan an official visit to Gaza.

    Sadly for the Turkish government, so far its threats have failed to make a real impact on Israel and get the desired result, which would be a change of the Israeli government to a more leftist one. Israel has been embroiled in its own “Spring”, which saw continuous demonstration and 400,000 people go out to the street to demand economic reform. As a result, the Israeli media has dedicated most of its coverage to the protests and the protesters themselves vowed not to let external influences quiet their voice, some going as far as blaming Netanyahu as playing up the crisis with Turkey to create a distraction.

    The question that remains is how far the Turkish government would go to reach its goal of making Israel submit and whether it would succeed in doing so before it gets labelled as unreasonable and dangerous.

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About MiddleEastInterpreter
Unlike some people I am not satisified with headlines or hearing only one side of the story. I always read the information from both sides of every event, look up original documents and statistics and only then form my opinion and write about it. I try as much as I can not to let any prejuidice of my own experience affect my writing. I am harsh on both sides when I write and in my opinion emotion has no part in dictating the content or setting the tone of an article/blog. The only prejuidice I bring to my articles is the lack of trust of politicians, lobbysts or parties with mandate over issues, they have a strong interest in. In these times of change, I hope you enjoy my interpretation of the Middle East. Please feel free to write comments, whether you agree or disagree with my view of things. Yours, MiddleEastInterpreter http://twitter.com/MiddleEastInter

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