Sunday, September 4, 2011

A somewhat different view of Turkey's foreign policy

The ongoing row between Turkey and Israel, which has prompted the former to expel the latter's ambassador and to downgrade diplomatic relations between the two countries has prompted some analysts to describe Turkish foreign policy as a complete disaster.
Israel’s decision not to abide by the Turkish ultimatum about the need to apologize for the May 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla incident brought the promised “Plan B” punishment: Turkey has decided to expel Israel’s ambassador to Ankara, downgrade its diplomatic ties to the lowest possible level, to hold on all military agreements and to halt trade between Turkey and Israel.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said his government would now provide full support to the families of those killed to pursue prosecution of any Israeli military or government members responsible for the deaths.

Moreover, President Abdullah Gul strongly condemned the United Nations Palmer Report, because it considered Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza “a legitimate security measure” and stated that Turkey could have done more to dissuade the Turkish flotilla participants from their actions. He deemed it “null and void” and sent a veiled threat to Israel: “Turkey, as the most powerful country in the region, will not only protect its own rights but also those of all the people in need.”

Davutoglu declared that “Turkey would take measures to ensure free maritime movement in the eastern Mediterranean.”

Until several months ago Turkey’s policy of “zero problems” with all its neighbors, a “bridge between East and West,” and Middle Eastern activism, devised by Davutoglu, seemed successful.

The publicized incident of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan viciously attacking President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2009 and the May 2010 international flotilla incident led by the Turkish Islamist organization IHH brought Erdogan’s and Turkey’s standing in the Arab world to its peak.

The Mavi Marmara incident and the ensuing crisis with Israel mark also the beginning of the failure of this policy.

The attempt to mediate a peace agreement between Israel and Syria faded away; the excessive support to Hamas led to frosty relations with the then Mubarak regime in Egypt and even with the Palestinian Authority; Turkey appeared more and more as a potential Islamist threat rather than an asset to the West and NATO.
It is fair to say that during this year Turkey called it wrong several times about the Arab countries and developments in them but so have many Western countries and leaders. As for Cyprus, that remains a long-standing problem and to talk of the Turkish invasion without mentioning what prompted it is futile. Turks and Turkish Cypriots have long memories: they remember Greek ambitions of the early seventies and of the more recent past. Nor do they feel that the EU played entirely fairly by Northern Cyprus.

The question is really why is Turkey finding it so hard to finesse the issue of Gaza and the flotilla, to the point of violently opposing the UN report on the subject. Why, for example, is Prime Minister Erdogan discussing the possibility of visiting Gaza during his trip to Egypt? After all, given the situation in that country and the tense relationship between Turkey and various Arab states, there is enough to discuss without antagonizing Israel even further. Or so one would think.


  1. "Nor do they feel that the EU played entirely fairly by Northern Cyprus".

    A bit one sided, Helen. The majority of the GCs thought the the UN had not played fair over Annan (entirely reasonably, IMO). Meanwhile, Turkey does not honour its agreed obligations over EU trade when it comes to Cyprus, which places trade issues with N.Cyprus in a context not mentioned in you link.


  2. Not one sided at all. The Turks do not feel that the EU played fairly. That's a fact. They don't feel that. Furthermore, they are right, as the EU broke all its promises. That does not mean that Turkey always behaves according to what it has agreed to.

  3. The EU scenarios were based on accession of the reunified island. That failed, so the situation was not as planned. TCs may have cause for complaint. But Turkey has no cause for complaint as they were instrumental, of not the prime cause, in that failure. Ask yourself by what process of diplomacy the UN ended up putting forward a solution publicly rejected by one of the parties. I cannot vouch for the details, but the broad thrust of Claire Palley's book is correct - the UN attempted to impose a solution the terms of which were dictated by Ankara.

    The interesting thing now is the future. Cyprus has a discredited president as the result of the Vasilikos disaster - nothing he negotiates will have credibility. Will the tranzies attempt an imposed solution over the heads of the people, sans referendum ? God help everyone if they do.

  4. I rather think the Greeks rejected the solution because they were told by their political and church leaders that they could have a much better deal if they just go on being bloody minded. In a way it has worked but they still have not got the whole island.

  5. That wasn't the thought process, Helen.

    Few expected or expect a better deal later. It would fly in the face of experience - as the decades go by, what is tabled gets progressively worse for the GCs. Many forms of potential agreement are not worth having. You need to delve into the details to understand this. But, less bloody mindedness than "you must be bloody joking". As for being led into a rejection by their leaders, they're not a people easily led - normally a virtue, but it can be taken to the point that it becomes a weakness. Opinions as to what should be done vary widely. But everyone knows what is what on the myriad of angles to Cyprob, and by and large know what is going down at any one time. The expectations at the time were that there may not be another chance if we vote "no", but so be it.