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.
The Arab uprisings completely shuffled Turkey’s cards and showed the limitations of its neo-Ottoman ambitions.
During the past few years, the AKP government improved enormously the
political and economic relations with Syria. In April 2009 Turkey and
Syria conducted an unprecedented, three-day joint military drill on
their border and signed a letter of intent giving the green light for
cooperation in the defense sector.
In the first days of the uprising in Cairo, Erdogan coordinated with the
Syrian dictator Bashar Assad “efforts regarding unrest in Egypt.”
Weeks later, the bloody repression of the Syrian people’s rebellion
compelled Erdogan to slam Assad’s regime, to give shelter to the Syrian
opposition and warn his old friend that “those who build happiness on
despotism will drown in the blood they spill.”
According to the Turkish daily Today’s Zaman
, Turkey’s National Security
Council lately discussed the possibility of establishing a “buffer
zone” along the Syrian border, first in the “no man’s land” between the
Syrian and Turkish lines of demarcation and to be extended further into
Syrian territory if needed.
Ankara’s ties with Iran have also improved under the AKP. Turkey has
defended Iran’s nuclearization efforts and in May 2010 brokered (with
Brazil) the controversial Iran nuclear fuel swap, which led to nothing
Turkey’s UN vote against Iran sanctions raised serious objections in the
United States and Europe. Iran indirectly supported a secret military
drill between the Turkish and Chinese air forces that took place in
Turkey in September 2010, as Chinese SU-27 warplanes that took off from
bases in China refueled in Iran.
But since the Turkish moves against the Assad regime, Teheran has been
influential in disrupting Syria’s confidence in Turkey by disseminating
anti-Turkish propaganda, has stopped intelligence cooperation with
Turkey in the fight against the Kurdish PKK in Iraq, and has even
threatened it not to intervene in Syrian affairs. Iran was also unhappy
about Turkey’s support to the Bahraini regime’s repression of the Shia
Turkey opposed the rebels in Libya at the beginning of the Benghazi
uprising and the NATO intervention, but in the end it had to bandwagon
the alliance and these days recognizes the NTC government.
When Cyprus decided to go ahead with gas drilling off its southern coast
beginning in October 2011, after it concluded a maritime boundary
agreement with Israel in 2010, Turkey unalterably opposed this course.
Turkey claimed that having invaded Cyprus and established a Turkish
entity there, which no one else recognizes, it is entitled to forestall
all activity in the Cypriot economic exclusion zone (EEZ) until the
status of Cyprus is worked out through negotiation.
At the same time, Erdogan has announced to the United Nations and
leaders of Cyprus that his country is no longer prepared to accept the
concessions it has agreed to in order to help with the reunification of
Cyprus in line with a UN plan back in 2004.
The Turkish side will accept nothing short of recognition of a two-state solution on the island.
As a consolation prize, “to showcase Ankara’s ambition to become a major
political and economic player in Africa,” and “raise Turkey's profile
even further,” Erdogan lately visited Somalia, the country that has been
worst affected by a prolonged drought in the Horn of Africa.
He announced that Turkey had raised $137 million for Somalia, and
pledged it would open an embassy, build roads and open more schools and
Erdogan also promised to help facilitate a settlement to Somalia’s
internal conflict, with the Islamist Shabab militia to be part of the
The Turkish foreign minister has threatened to become more active in
pushing the Palestinian Authority’s request for the recognition of a
Palestinian state at the next UN General Assembly.
It seems the Erdogan government is amnesic regarding its own main
internal problem, the Kurdish issue. The most immediate impact of the UN
recognition of the Palestinian state could be on the Kurds, in Turkey,
Syria and Iraq. The AKP government has not solved, as promised, the
Kurdish problem and since it won the June 2011 elections is facing a
growing terrorism and guerrilla offensive inside Turkey and from Iraq,
an active political opposition by Kurdish parliamentarians and the
declaration of a “democratic autonomy” by Kurdish NGOs in the in
southeastern province of Diyarbakir (Turkish Kurdistan).
The Turkish air force lately bombed “60 pre-determined targets belonging
to the separatist [PKK] organization” in Iraq and its artillery struck
at 168 additional targets with “intense” fire from the Turkish side. The
Turkish military stated that an estimated 145 to 160 PKK members were
killed and scores injured.
The pro-government Turkish daily Zaman
reported that Turkey was setting
up “operational front garrisons” inside northern Iraq where hitherto it
used to maintain a low-key intelligence presence to monitor Kurdish
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari denounced Turkish bombardments of
Kurdish areas in northern Iraq. Human Rights Watch said in a statement
that many of the targeted areas were purely civilian and most of the
victims were civilians.
By threatening Israel, Turkey’s government seems to have passed from the
“zero problems” policy in the Middle East to an “all azimuth hostility”
strategy.The writer is Senior Research Scholar
at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) and Senior
fellow at the The Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS) at The
Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya, Israel.