Analysis: Turkey takes pragmatic approach, seeks to undo isolation, gain influence

Turkey’s aggressive Islamist- oriented foreign policy has led to a loss of influence in the region, as its opponents keep it in check.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to be on the cusp of reaping the benefits of an abrupt change of course, moving toward a formal peace with Israel and Russia in exchange for a number of benefits, some of them not yet tangible.
Turkey’s aggressive Islamist- oriented foreign policy has led to a loss of influence in the region, as its opponents keep it in check.
After opposing Israel so strongly in the past, Erdogan is in an uncomfortable situation.
But because of the wars raging in Syria, Iraq, and the domestic Kurdish insurgency, as well as its terrible relations with Russia and many of its Middle Eastern neighbors, he felt something had to give.
In the rapprochement deal with Israel, Erdogan slickly inserted Turkey more deeply into the Palestinian issue, using aid and the rebuilding of Gaza for propaganda and ideological purposes, which will strengthen Hamas’s hold on the Strip at the expense of the PA.
The Turkish president also was able to get something for his conservative supporters: a multi-million-dollar cash payment from Israel for families of Turks killed or injured on the Mavi Marmara flotilla, despite the fact that they attacked Israeli soldiers.
Ali Sahin, the Turkish deputy minister for EU Affairs, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that “the Middle East region needs peace and stability more than ever and I am sure that the deal between Israel and Turkey will contribute to regional peace.”
While the deal is being questioned in both Turkey and Israel, “from a humanitarian point of view I am happy with the deal,” he said, referring to the part in the agreement allowing Ankara to send aid and other products to Gaza.
While the Turkish leader did have to settle for less than he sought with Israel maintaining the Gaza blockade, Turkey could use its increased influence there to compete with Iran for influence with Hamas.
Ege Seckin, senior analyst at IHS Jane’s Country Risk, told the Post that “by allowing Turkey to invest in Gaza, Israel probably intends to increase Turkey’s influence over Hamas – and over the Gaza Strip in general – at the expense of Iran, which Israel sees as a bigger threat to its national security.”
“Turkey, which already enjoys a close relationship with Hamas, is likely to use its infrastructural investments in Gaza to consolidate its influence over the group,” added Seckin.
Turkey would likely use its political weight over Hamas “to discourage activities that would risk an escalation,” argued Seckin, adding that this is because of “the pragmatic imperatives underlying the reconciliation deal.”
Turkey and Israel do not wish for another Gaza war now and so the reconciliation deal “raises the stakes of another Gaza war,” he asserted.
Turkey had been largely dependent on Russian gas before it shot down a Russian fighter jet in November and now if its effort to fix relations succeeds, it will also receive an economic boost.
With Israel, the gas situation is not a done deal. Questioned about a prospective gas deal between Israel and Turkey, an industry source told the Post that such a transaction is much more complicated than much of the media let on.
“To send gas to Turkey you have to go through Cyprus waters and the country could torpedo a deal as along as Turkey occupies Northern Cyprus,” said the source, adding that some kind of agreement such as a fee could be worked out, but that is yet to be agreed upon.
However, “having all our ‘export eggs’ from Leviathan in one Turkish basket is risky to say the least,” added the source.
Meanwhile, the Turkish government and its supporters trumpet the Israel deal as a victory.
Dr. Aykan Erdemir, a member of the Turkish parliament from 2011 to 2015 and a senior fellow at the Washington- based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Post that Turkey’s pro-government media have covered the Israeli deal widely, presenting it as a victory for Turkey.
“The deal with Israel is only the first step of the reset in Turkish foreign policy.
Pro-government commentators have been highlighting the deal’s positive spillover effects into relations with Egpyt, Russia, and the US,” he said.
“The few remaining opposition outlets, meanwhile, portrayed the deal as Erdogan caving in and backing from his full list of demands,” he noted.
“Erdogan, however, is confident that his overwhelming control of the Turkish media will allow him to spin this deal as an unequivocal win for Turkey,” he added.
Ironically, argued Erdemir, the relative absence of independent media in Turkey allowed Ankara to finalize the deal unhindered.
“Ankara increasingly sees itself isolated and vulnerable, and hopes that the deal with Israel can be a significant step in breaking from what it used to cherish as ‘precious loneliness.’” Erdogan also hopes that this deal could improve his global image, with one pro-government commentator stating that “the deal will force all Erdogan critics around the world to reconsider him.”
The deal could have a positive impact on Turkey’s reception, but “I don’t think that Erdogan’s tarnished reputation is salvageable,” argued the former Turkish lawmaker.
Moreover, continued Erdemir, “both the Turkish proponents and opponents of the Turkish-Israeli rapprochement comment on the deal by using a strikingly anti-Semitic and hostile rhetoric.”
“Ironically, the so-called rapprochement turned out to be a national reaffirmation of the Turkish public’s dislike of Israel. This is yet another proof that 13-years of Erdogan rule and anti-Semitic vitriol have poisoned Turkish policy debate,” he said.