Friday, September 23, 2011

The Eastern Mediterranean's Bermuda Triangle

Turkey now finds itself managing rapidly escalating crises with three Eastern Mediterranean neighbors: Israel, Cyprus and Syria. The reasons for each crisis are different, but Milliyet's ever-sharp foreign affairs analyst Semih Idiz, finds a thread that connects them all and that leaves Ankara with some significant foreign policy challenges. From a recent column (in the Hurriyet Daily News):
Turkey is facing a difficult time in the eastern Mediterranean. It is almost as if we are heading for a hot confrontation in the region. It is not clear, however, how much international support Ankara has against Greek Cyprus and Israel. What is certain is that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s popularity on the Arab street will not be of much use here.

The irony is that any confrontation between Turkey and Greek Cyprus over offshore drilling rights, or between Turkey and Israel due to Ankara’s pledge to maintain safe passage in the eastern Mediterranean, will serve the interests of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at this present juncture.

It is clear, especially since Prime Minister Erdoğan is not mincing his words about the regime in Damascus anymore, that Syria and Turkey are adversaries at this stage. That is why any development that draws Turkey’s attention away from Syria at the present time will be much appreciated by Assad who is fighting for his political survival....

....To sum up, it is clear that the waters of the eastern Mediterranean are heating up and that Turkey is facing a multi-problem environment in this region. This is quite a change from the days when Ankara was aiming for “zero problems” in its regional ties.
The rest of the column can be found here. Meanwhile, the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based think tank that's considered to have good connections to the White House, has just published a brief that suggests that Ankara's increasingly sharp rhetoric, particularly regarding Israel, could become self-defeating. From the brief, written by Michael Werz and Ken Sofer:
The confrontation between Turkey and Israel, two of America’s closest allies in the region, is threatening to reverse substantial gains in U.S. foreign policy. In addition, the AKP is trying to coerce the United States into a position closer to its own when it comes to the recognition of an independent Palestinian state.

Of course, Turkey’s strategy is not smart vis-à-vis the White House or the Department of State, because they’ve broken the rules of democratic engagement. The current escalation creates unnecessary tensions; is based on unmediated, unilateral interests instead of searching for viable compromise; and has no longer-term perspective. And it goes beyond the question of whether or not Turkey’s government has a legitimate point in its criticism of Israel. The present oratory also undermines Turkey’s economic and security interests. This type of posture provides space for destabilizing actors in the region, ultimately endangering the country’s newly established political recognition in regions other than Europe.

Further, Turkey’s political and economic capital is largely dependent on its new role as pivot between the West and the Middle East. Besides its important geographic position between the two regions, it is the only country that has considerable leverage in both regions. This is what makes Turkey such an invaluable American ally and such an important voice for Middle Eastern nations. But if Turkey continues down its recent path and establishes a strong anti-Israeli posture, many in the United States and Europe will begin to review the level of trust and recognition that Turkey earned in the past year.

For the time being, the repercussions of these attacks won’t be as visible because of the Turkish prime minister’s wildly successful populism with its suggestive and simple interpretation of the world. But as a middle power in one of the most challenging political environments on the globe, Turkey has a limited amount of time to get away with this type of discourse....

....The current escalation has taken the Turkey-Israel relationship back four years. It needs to be rebuilt over time, accompanied by a more pragmatic and less selective Turkish foreign policy. But after picking up the pieces of a “zero problem policy” in shambles, Turkey has the option to develop a real neighborhood policy worthy of a democratic emerging power.

The U.S. administration needs to flank that process or risk losing a valuable ally in the Middle East to the type of shortsighted, populist foreign policy that limits the prospects for peace in the region. Turkey’s growth into a critical player on the international stage benefits not only Ankara, but Washington, Tel Aviv, and many capitals throughout Europe and the Middle East. The United States should continue to recognize and promote Turkish leadership but also make it clear that the current over-the-top rhetoric against a neighbor will diminish Turkey’s credibility in diplomatic circles.

In the short run, a breakdown in the Turkish-Israeli relationship may be politically beneficial for Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan or Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu among their hawkish constituents. But poking holes in the relationship will only lead to a sinking ship and will ultimately hurt Turkey, Israel, and the United States.
You can find the full piece here.

1 comment:

Julian said...

fairly disappointing to see this coming out of CAP. Pretending that Turkey is the sole source of difficulty in these relationships, when this whole mess started over Israel's attack on a flotilla of ships sailing from Turkey and the resulting deaths of Turkish citizens, is pretty infuriating. That the CAP article completely ignores the situations in Syria and Cyprus doesn't say much for the broadness of US policy regarding Turkey, either. That the essence of the article seemed to be "Turkey should be less critical of what Israel does, and value the strategic goals of Israel's government over the preference of its own citizens" makes it even worse. If this is what passes for political analysis and diplomacy in the Obama White House then it is unlikely we will see a peaceful, let alone equitable, solution to our stare down with Iran, or the situation in Syria, and any US support in settling the intractable disputes over Cyprus seems right-out.