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Turkey’s foreign policy reorientation

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Today, Turkey is facing three major problems and though it employs diplomatic skills to cater for the redress of those problems, it has not been able to overcome the obstacles. The three issues the former Ottoman Empire is facing are: one, its EU membership efforts against which many European countries raise opposition, making Istanbul’s entry into the European parliament as a legitimate European state difficult, though the present Brexit move gives hopes for its speedy entry; two, the Kurdish problem, fueled by outside sources which has given a constant headache for the ruling AKP and its leader Erdogan; and three, its effort to lead Islamic world that are spoiled by war in Syria. Turkey’s chances of becoming a veto power depend on the successful handling by the government of these issues.

Turkey is doing a faster burn on the Kurds. Having waged a fierce war against Kurdish separatists in southern Turkey, the Turkish government has taken military action against the Kurds of Iraq and Syria to prevent Kurdish forces from connecting two enclaves — one in Iraq and one in Syria — that could form the geographic beginning of an independent Kurdistan.

Although Turkey has successfully resolved to sort out its issues with Russia and Israel so that it could put at rest the challenges from both these powerfully dictatorial states controlling the wars in Mideast by coordinating their destabilizing operations along with USA.

When it found its assertive diplomacy is not yielding the desired fruits, Turkey has revised its strategy and renewed its ties with both Russia and Israel.

Turkey and Russia

A NATO member Turkey and an anti-NATO Russia do not have close ties and in fact ideally they cannot cooperate in international politics, either. In fact, Turkey joined the NATO very early when it felt the Soviet threat and the NATO used Istanbul in order to assert its ‘traditional” control over Islamic world, including Arab world and Iran. USA and UK and other big powers skillfully divided Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt to deny them a place on the important UNSC veto system and made them fight for just non-veto position on the UNSC for usual two years by rotation. In fact, these top Islamic nations bitterly opposed each other on the UNSC with veto, unlike Russia which fought for China, its communist ally then, on the veto regime. .

Bilateral trade was normal

In the first four months of the year, Turkey’s exports to Russia dropped to $484.6 million, a 61.5 percent decrease compared to the same period of 2015. The head of the Agriculturalists Association of Turkey (TZOB) earlier noted that his sector’s losses had reached $290 million over the year due to the political problems with Russia. “Russia’s share in our fresh fruit and vegetable exports was 39 percent on an amount basis and 42 percent on a value basis. The sector’s exports have been negatively affected since sanctions were imposed by Russia on Jan. 1. While Turkey made around $368.2 million in revenue in exchange for around 530,000 tons of fresh fruit and vegetable exports to Russia in the first five months of 2015, this figure plunged to around $78.2 million of revenue for some 113,000 tons of exports”.

A downturn in relations occasioned by Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet last November especially impacted economic and trade ties. When Turkey developed tension with Russia over the latter’s violation of Turkey’s air space, Israel moved swiftly to win over Russia and Netanyahu became a regular visit to President Putin’s office in Moscow as part of their joint strategy in Syria and West Asia in general. Turkey felt the pinch which was unbearable. Hence Turkey decided to move cautiously and make over with both Russia and Israel, maybe on US advice. Thus Istanbul’s effort to neutralize the badly tensed situation harming its interests has made it a favourite of both countries.

Relations between Russia and Turkey have taken a nosedive over the Syrian civil war, particularly after Turkey shot down a Russian plane. But even before that, Turkey’s support of Sunni jihadist organizations was a thorn in the side of Russia, which still fears Sunni jihad inside southern Russia. Russia has goals in Syria and Israel also has requirements.

After roughly nine months of disagreement, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to revive their stalled bilateral relationship in their first direct contact on June 29, fueling hopes about restoring economic and trade ties. According to experts, recent moves to normalize ties between Turkey and Russia will benefit both sides’ economy as well as the region’s economy, particularly in the energy, tourism and trade sectors.

Russian Economic Development Minister Alexey Ulyukayev said the trade and investment relations between Turkey and Russia would be rebuilt, according to a TASS report on July 1. An expert from the Energy Markets and Policies Institute (EPPEN) said the improving relations would make the most positive contributions in the energy sector. Russia has heavily invested in Turkey’s energy sector and a possible resolution over gas prices would be significant if both sides can agree. Nigyar Masumova, an academic from the World Economy Department of Moscow State International Relations University, said the normalization in ties was some good news during difficult days for the both countries. Trade and tourism ties will return to the former levels in a short time, while the planned Turkish Stream project could be delayed due to economic problems in Russia. “We believe that the sanctions imposed by Russia on fresh fruit and vegetable imports from Turkey will likely be abolished in the autumn,” she added.

One is not very sure if Turkey shot down the Russian plane on the instructions from Pentagon and that could the reason why Russia did not retaliate because if it did retaliate NATO would attack Russian planes in the region leading to a brief war. . The Middle East total bankruptcy and the only country that Turkey can establish stable relations, start a dialogue and discuss political options with is Israel. Ankara and Tel Aviv’s increasing need to share field intelligence seems to have triggered this normalization. Recently, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen visited Ankara and met with the top brass of the intelligence-security bureaucracy led by Turkey’s intelligence chief Hakan Fidan.

Turkey and Israel

Turkey and Israel had enjoyed a privileged relationship for more than 60 years. Before the flotilla raid, there was truly far-reaching military cooperation between Israel and Turkey that dated back to the 1960s and peaked in the 1990s. With the 1994 Defense Cooperation Agreement and 1996 Military Training Cooperation Agreement, military-security relations between the two became the most intimate in the Middle East. This cooperation was particularly prominent in intelligence sharing, military training and the defense industry. But relations between the two countries went into a deep freeze in 2010, when Israeli commandos attacked a Turkish ship in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.

With the 1994 Defense Cooperation Agreement and 1996 Military Training Cooperation Agreement, military-security relations between the two became the most intimate in the Middle East. This cooperation was particularly prominent in intelligence sharing, military training and the defense industry.

In the early 2000s, in return for Israel’s technical and intelligence support to Turkey in combating the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Turkey shared with Israel the intelligence on Iran it had collected in Iraq and Turkey. Israel’s combat pilots participated in the annual Anatolian Eagle exercises held at an airfield in Turkey’s central Anatolian province of Konya, where they conducted training over mountainous topography unavailable in Israel. They also conducted regular joint exercises in the eastern Mediterranean until 2010. In return, Turkish pilots received training on surface-to-air missiles in Israel. In the defense industry, the most recent joint projects were the modernization of M60 tanks at a cost of $650 million and F-4E planes for about $1 billion, procurement and operation of armed Heron UAVs for $200 million, electronic reconnaissance and surveillance systems at $200 million, and procurement of missiles and smart ammunition for $150 million.

Israel and Egypt have come to a deep understanding of the sources of instability and insecurity in Sinai, and the relationship between Hamas in Gaza and its primary sponsor, Iran, as well as ISIS.

Mavi Marmara Gaza flotilla, the flash point

Turkey and Israel, mediated successfully by the USA and UK, have had excellent relations, including regular joint military exercise, for many years until the Mavi Marmara flotilla of 2010, symbolizing the beginning of a new chapter in the freedom struggle of Palestine.

The Turkish-owned ship Mavi Marmara took part in a 2010 “Gaza flotilla” attempting to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. After the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla Turkey made three demands of Israel: an Israeli apology for the deaths of Turkish activists; a financial settlement; and lifting the Gaza blockade, which Turkey claimed was illegal. In 2011, however, the UN Palmer Commission Report, produced as per the US-Israel demands, found the Zionist terror blockade of Gaza — jointly perpetrated with Egypt — to be legal, and said Israel owed Turkey neither an apology nor compensation.

In 2013, at the urging of President Obama and to move the conversation off the impasse, PM Netanyahu did apologize for the loss of life and agree to discuss compensation. While Obama was pleased, Turkish President Erdogan repaid the gesture by denigrating Israel on Turkish television and announcing he would force the end of the blockade. Israel’s condition — that the office of Hamas in Ankara be closed — was ignored for the simple reason that Turkey Is not occupying Gaza Strip. .

Nevertheless, in February 2014, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Turkish television that Israel and Turkey were “closer than ever” to normalizing relations.” And in February 2016, there was yet another announcement of imminent restoration of government-to-government ties. In March, Kurdish sources said Turkey was already demanding weapons from Israel, but that Israel wanted to ensure that Turkey would not use them against Kurdish forces.

Alongside mending ties with Israel, Turkey began repairing relations with Turkey as well because restoring full relations between Israel and Turkey would irritate Russia, with which Israel has good trade and political relations, and understandings regarding Syria. Israel’s relations with the Kurds are also at issue.

Most of illegal settlers in Palestine are of Russian origin and are a powerful group in the parliament and close links with Russia. And hence Israeli leaders like Netanyahu enjoy free lunch at Putin’s official palace In Moscow. .

Assertive diplomacy

Turkey’s assertive diplomacy got revealed when in 2010 Turkey sent the Mavi Marmara aidship with humanitarian assistance to breach the Israeli blockades around Gaza Strip. Nine Turkish activists and one American from IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation were killed during an Israeli commando terror raid on the Mavi Marmara cruise ship and blocked humanitarian help for the Gaza Strip. Turkey broke off the bilateral ties forthwith.

On Nov. 24, 2015, Turkish F-16s shot down a Syrian-based Russian bomber that had allegedly strayed into its airspace. This triggered a confrontation between Ankara and Moscow, and especially between the two presidents, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin. The Russian ambassador was recalled, harsh and damaging economic sanctions were applied, and there were even threats of war.

The war of words and military muscle flexing in Syria, the Caucasus, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean continued all through the first half of 2016. Turkey requested a stronger NATO presence in the Black Sea to help protect it against a more assertive Russia.

On the credit side of the ledger, Turkey has given shelter to almost 3 million refugees from Syria – many of whom eventually began to move on to Europe. As it gathered in strength, this exodus produced a paradigm shift in the European Union’s attitude. Suddenly, Turkish help was needed to contain the migrant stream.

Brussels responded by offering Ankara money and halfhearted concessions – some of them long overdue, like visa-free travel

Problem of assertive diplomacy

History has shown that only the USA can effectively pursue assertive diplomacy and so far even Russian has not be able to achieve it without US help as it is happening in Syria.

Without being a superpower, Turkey faced serious opposition to its assertive diplomacy because its punitive measures against Israel and Russia threatened to cause damages to Turkey in the short term at least.

USA which shields the Zionist crimes against humanity has made overtones to collaborate with Russia in Syria and Mideast East. So, Istanbul sensed danger because Russia and Israel jointly begin a containment approach towards Turkey.

After the Mavi Marmara incident, intelligence sharing between the two countries came to an end, followed by cancelations in military training and cooperation.. After the downgrading of ties with Turkey, Israel conducted a series of military exercises with the air, sea and ground forces of Greece and the Greek Cypriots with which Turkey has problems.

After pursuing an assertive diplomacy for a few years, Turkey has now reverted to back to a big power policy format that, as before, would not only get back to US-Israeli orbit but also realign its relations with Russia with which it developed a serious conflictual situation.

The reason for the former Ottoman Empire to revise its policy in favor of Israel seems to be that it knew the e level of influence over USA and many other countries that also began a negative approach to Turkey after the Israeli –Turkish clash over breaching of Israeli terror blockade to Gaza Strip. Turkey helps all big powers in selling their terror goods to third world, including India. .

Though isolated internationally no-account of its illegal colonies and genocides in Palestine, Israel still calls all shots in Mideast with its arms and triclomatic arsenals. Selling terror goods to third world and receiving aid from USA and EU, Israel has generally good economic and political relations with Russia and Turkey while Russia and Turkey are doing a slow burn.

Islamic world’s bilateral trade with Turkey is not impressive. Most Muslim nations have been purchasing terror goods from USA, Europe, Israel and Russia while Turkey has not made any serious effort to build up its economic relations with Islamic world. Antagonism with Israel only harmed turkey as Islamic world has not come for economic ties with Istanbul in order to assure it their support.

True, for too long Turkey rejected Israeli moves to restart the diplomatic and military relations. But since 2014, therefore, Turkey has been searching to renew ties with Israel. Saudi Arabia’s tensions with Iran and the USA after the West-Iran nuclear deal in 2015 have encouraged Saudi rapprochement with Israel. Turkey followed the suit accepting the new reality and realignment with Israel was found to be “profitable” option. In fact, this is part of a new regional reality, where those countries, along with Qatar and Jordan, fear spillover from Syria and Iraq.

Vision

Turkey learns that it cannot pursue any assertive foreign policy in order to advance its legitimate interests globally without the help of USA and with Israel opposing it as a counter force, especially when USA and Israel operate jointly.

Turley has begun to take sharp turns in its foreign policy. Following a statement by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim that Turkey will pursue a more realistic foreign policy to decrease enemies and increase friends, the first major turn has appeared in Israel-Turkey relations after May 31, 2010, when the Israeli military raided a Turkish flotilla that was trying to break through the Israeli blockade and deliver humanitarian relief supplies to Gaza. 10 Turkish nationals and an American aid worker were among those killed by Israeli military attack. While Turkey strained its ties with arrogant and fascist Israel, USA did not consider the killing of its citizen by Israeli military as a crime at all because he was not killed by Islamic terrorists.

Over the past two weeks, three remarkable things happened. On June 26, Israel and Turkey agreed to restore normal diplomatic relations, potentially unlocking the development of huge offshore natural gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean. The next day, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced that Erdogan had apologized for the downing of the Russian warplane in a letter to Putin. Russia lifted its ban on package tours to Turkey the same week, and relations began to normalize.

An important reason for the revision of foreign policy in relations with Israel is the Turkish armed forces that pressured the government about their needs and projects the AKP government could not ignore the demand of military. Also, because of its disturbing isolation in the region and with inadequate support from the USA and NATO, had no choice to but turn back to Israel for regional military-security cooperation. The growing profile of Iran, the regionalization of the PKK threat and regional developments around Hamas, the Islamic State (IS), Iraq and Syria have laid the ground for Ankara and Tel Aviv to cooperate

Today, Israel is the country closest to the US and Russia. That is why Israel can play a middle role in preserving Ankara’s relations with the US at an appropriate level and also help normalize relations with Russia.

However, it is unlikely that Turkey-Israel relations will be restored to 1990s levels anytime soon but this may help the shaping of a new geopolitical equation for the eastern Mediterranean and facilitate their counterbalancing of Iran in the region.

Naturally, the PKK, Hamas, Iran, the Syrian regime, ISIS and Russia won’t be happy about rewinding of bilateral ties. Israel wants Turkey to help play a more active role in NATO. In ore rot take Russia on board to reduce tensions, Turkey has made up with Russia as well.

Notwithstanding the benefit both parties, rapprochement between Israel and Turkey is likely to be much more expensive for Turkey.

Zionist criminal mindset: Politics of convenience?

Turkey and Israel are reported to have reestablished full diplomatic ties after more than half a decade. The history of how Israel and Turkey had such a deep falling out goes back seven years. In January 2009, at a World Economic Forum meeting at Davos, members of an international panel were waiting to wrap up and get to dinner when then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan demanded to respond to Israel’s President Shimon Peres. Taking off his simultaneous translation earphones, he told Peres, “Maybe you are feeling guilty and that is why you are so strong in your words. You killed people. I remember the children who were killed on beaches.”

Not only has the US ally Israel killed Palestinians, it, having assumed as a super power, also killed Turkish people. A little over a year later, on May 31, 2010, nine Turkish activists from IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation were killed during an Israeli commando raid on the Mavi Marmara cruise ship that was trying to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. Erdoğan ordered the Turkish ambassador to leave the Jewish state immediately, claiming the raid was contrary to international law and tantamount to “inhumane state terrorism.”

Relations between the two countries cooled severely. Given Turkey’s relationship with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, it seemed to be growing closer to groups that were traditionally hostile to Israel. Israel fought three wars against the ruling Hamas in Gaza since 2009, and Turkey has demanded Israel lift its blockade of the small strip.

Last year, things have taken a dramatic turn. Returning from a trip to Saudi Arabia, Erdoğan said that Turkey “needs” Israel (gas and terror goods) and asserted that Israel needed Turkey, “a fact of the region.”

The normalization agreement was supposed to include long-term Turkish demands at compensation for the deaths in 2010, as well as a decision about Gaza. B. Netanyahu had consented to another Turkish demand in 2013 by issuing an apology of sorts in a phone conversation with Erdoğan. US President B. Obama was reported to have a close role in encouraging the conversation to take place.

The rise of the AKP in Turkey’s 2002 elections changed the diplomatic playing field. New faces in Ankara were less interested in Israel and more interested in a new regional paradigm that would see rising Turkish influence. Turkey sought to mediate between Israel and Syria over the Golan Heights in 2009. Erdoğan was shocked by fascist PM Ehud Olmert, who mercilessly killed even children to win the general poll, visiting him in 2009 and then going to war in Gaza, rather than concluding a deal with Syria. Israel’s military minister Ehud Barak said Israel did “teach the Turks a lesson”.

Erdoğan was “personally offended” and felt humiliated by Israel as USA watched the terror show on sea by Zionist military using US terror goods. . It was in this context that Erdoğan sat with Peres at Davos and accused him of killing Gazans. The resulting deaths irrevocably harmed relations.

In March of 2016, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz met Erdoğan in Washington and discussed the war in Syria, Iran’s presence there, terrorism—and natural gas. Reuters claimed that the issue of Israeli exports of natural gas to Turkey was an essential piece of the puzzle because Turkey has been weaned of Russian gas since their relations strained over Syria.

Implications of realignment

The implications of this policy shift are enormous. It will integrate the refugees into Turkey’s economy, which is likely to accelerate growth – especially since many of the Syrians are highly qualified professionals. It also strengthens Mr. Erdogan’s political base, giving him a new cohort of likely supporters.

The realignment process will have implications for the Syrian conflict, natural gas exports and Saudi-Israeli relations. Israel has always sought to maintain good relations with the Turks, and the two countries had enjoyed relatively warm relations since the 1950s. Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognize Israel. As a powerful non-Arab state in the region and NATO member, Turkey was aligned with Israel during the Cold War. Several founders of the state of Israel were educated in Istanbul, and there was an affinity between the two country’s national movements.

The larger picture is the regional chaos that has unfolded since the break in relations in 2010. The Arab Spring in 2011 brought Morsi to power in Egypt. And when rebellion broke out in Syria, Turkey hoped that the Syrian rebels, whose more Sunni Islamic ideology tended to meld well with Turkey’s own AKP, would push Bashar al-Assad from power. But the rebels faltered, Islamic State took over part of Syria, and the United States and UK decided not to bomb Assad in 2013. Turkey continues to support Syria’s rebels, but it knows Assad will not fall. Morsi was pushed from power in 2013 in what Turkey considers a coup.

As Turkish renewal move was taking place Saudi Arabia and Egypt also began closer relationship. Recently, Egypt and Saudi Arabia upgraded relations with Egypt ceding back to the Saudis two islands that Saudi Arabia had given Egypt in 1950 to help Egypt fight Israel in the Red Sea. An Egyptian court however, has struck down the Egypt-Saudi islands deal. The Egyptian government informed Israel of the parameters of the deal, noting that Riyadh would be obligated to honor all of Egypt’s commitments in the peace treaty with Israel, including the presence of international peacekeepers on the islands and freedom of maritime movement in the Gulf of Aqaba. Israel approved the deal “on condition that the Saudis fill in the Egyptians’ shoes in the military appendix of the peace agreement.”

In sum, these moves transform Turkey’s position. Europe will have to reconsider its hypocritically superior attitude toward a country that is an indispensible regional partner, and which has also done much more for Syrian refugees than the EU itself.

What is most encouraging about these developments is their common denominator: pragmatism. This may bode well for resolving Turkey’s worst predicament, the Kurdish conflict, which has degenerated into a near-civil war raging in the country’s southeast.

Pragmatic leadership in Ankara, dealing from a position of strength, may find ways to accommodate Kurdish interests within the Turkish republic. This solution could even prove attractive for the Kurdish state in northern Iraq, which might become Turkey’s close associate. Turkey opposes the Kurdish movement for a soverign state. Maybe, Turkey thought Russia and Israel could openly support the Kurdish movement for a separate state.

Perhaps the most important development of the past two weeks is President Erdogan’s offer to grant Turkish citizenship to Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Turkey is now back as a leading regional power in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Mutual security

USA knows Israel’s security is tied with that of Palestine and Israel cannot ensure security of its lands and people if they don’t allow security and freedom to Palestinians. .

Turkey insists Israel breaks all terror blockades around Gaza strip and let the Palestinians have some freedoms. To meet Turkey’s condition, Israel would have to abandon the terror based security arrangement it shares with Egypt against Palestine, which has increased Israel’s own imagined security and pay regional dividends. Israelis are cleaver people who know its security is linked with the security of Palestinians and with intermittent terror attacks on Gaza, Israel cannot ensure its security.

Even when Israeli military keeps attacking Palestinians in Gaza Strip, killing even women and children, in 2011, the UN Palmer Commission Report found the blockade of Gaza — jointly administered with Egypt — to be legal, and said Israel owed Turkey neither an apology nor compensation. It argued that lifting the Israel/Egypt embargo on Gaza would empower Gaza rulers Hamas, and thereby the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran and ISIS — which would seem an enormous risk for no gain.

Quartet should have worried about mutual security for both Palestine and Israel as a two state solution is looming large to enable both Palestine and Israel exist side by side. However, like Israel and USA, the Quartet is also interested in Zionist expansionism and one state idea of Jews.

Observation

Turkey’s decision to renew ties with both Russia and Israel is timely as it did not want to precipitate the conflict further and that move welcomed even by intentional community wanting peace.

The EU issue of Turkey remains intact, though the recent Brexit move gives hopes for its speedy entry. The Kurdish problem, being accelerated by the war in Syria and ISIS attacks is not easy to solve but by realigning with both Russia and Israel, the problem cannot wire explosive. With a shift assertive diplomacy in favor of peaceful one, Ankara can now try to shoulder leadership of the Islamic world along with Saudi Arabia.

Netanyahu has publicly supported the establishment of a Kurdish state. Even at the peak of Israeli-Turkish relations, Israel’s support of the Kurds has been a relatively open political secret. Although the Israeli government consistently denies providing weapons, reputable sources suggest, at a minimum, training for Kurdish forces. Most recently, Israel acknowledged buying oil from Kurdish sources in Northern Iraq, and IsraAid, an Israeli humanitarian organization, provided assistance to Kurdish refugees fleeing ISIS.

Turkey’s problems with Israel, Russia and Egypt are based purely on principles because they wronged with Turkey by taking undue advantage of the US led NATO war on Islam (terror war). Turkey’s prompt action as a soverign Muslim nation having regard for Islam led to deterioration of relations with all these three powers.

The Arab Spring and NATO terror wars on Islam for energy resources, the US attacks on Libya and Syria, followed by Russian military intervention on behalf of an adamant Assad, among other factors, made Israeli fascist occupation and crimes against humanity fairly easier as it also claims legitimacy for its crimes and occupational settlements.

For Israel to trade its increasingly important relations with Russia, with Egypt — and thereby with Saudi Arabia — and with the Kurds for Turkish political approval and a promise to buy Israeli natural gas would seem to be a good idea for future deals.

The new developments taking pace with Turkey playing active reconciliation role are likely to give benefit to Mideast and Israel by negating and ending the Israel-Egypt terror blockades of Gaza.

In order to conduct smooth foreign policy globally, especially in Europe and West Asia, Israel needs to lift the Israel/Egypt embargo on Gaza by removing all terror blockades without unnecessarily wasting brains if the action would empower Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood or Iran or ISIS because maintaining the blockades would never let Israel gain credible security, though Palestinians would continue to suffer and continue to fight for survival and sovereignty. By giving defacto status the UN has already declared Palestine state a reality.

Time is over for Israel, UN, ICJ and Quartet to consider seriously about a soverign Palestine state and peace in West Asia. If the ICJ and ICC think no peace is possible in Mideast unless Israeli criminals are punished, then they should first punish them. US leaders who have promoted the criminal Zionist regime in Mideast must also deserve punishments for their deliberate crimes, including misuse of the veto to shield the Zionist crimes against humanity.

With Turkey’s shift in foreign policy structuring, will Russia and Israel become true allies of Turkey?

This trillion dollar question deserves a definite answer if one is forthcoming.

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Middle East

Syrian Coup de Grâce

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The Middle Eastern land has a diverse blend of history with conflicts and developments in knowledge. Where on one hand Baghdad was considered as the realm of knowledge on the other hand Constantinople was a symbol of power and domination. But now it seems that all has been shattered completely with conflicts.

The Middle Eastern landscape is facing its worst time ever: a phase of instability and misery. The oil ridden land is now becoming conflict ridden, from Euphrates to Persian Gulf; every inch seems to be blood stained nowadays.  The region became more like a chess board where kings are not kings but pawns and with each move someone is getting close to checkmate.

Starting from the spring which brought autumn in the Middle Eastern environment, now the curse is on Assyrian land where blood is being spilled, screams have took over the skies. The multi facet conflict has caused more than 400,000 deaths and 5 million seeking refuge abroad whereas 6 million displaced internally.

What began with a mere peaceful civil uprising, has now become a world stage with multiplayers on it. Tehran and Moscow are playing their own mantra by showing romance with Assad while Washington has its own way of gambling with kings in their hand. Involvement of catchy caliphate from 2014 is worsening the complexities of the Syrian saga. The deck is getting hot and becoming more and more mess, chemical strikes, tomahawk show, carpet bombing, stealth jets and many more, Syrian lands is now a market to sell the products exhibiting fine examples of military industrial complex. While to some, Syrian stage seems to be a mere regional proxy war, in reality it seems like a black hole taking whole region into its curse. One by one every inch of the country is turned into altar as the consequence of war. A country is now ripped into different territories with different claimants, but the question still remains as “Syria belongs to whom?”

The saga of Syrian dusk has its long roots in past and with each passing moment it is becoming a spiral of destruction. What is being witnessed in current scenario is just a glimpse of that spiral. It has already winded the region into it and if not resolve properly and maturely it can spread like a contagious disease that can take whole Middle East into its chakra.

With recent development in Iran nuclear deal which left whole world into shock; and house of Sauds forming strong bond with western power brokers and Israel, to counter Tehran (because kings of holy desert have so much engraved hatred towards shiaits, that they prefer to shake hands with Jews and establish an unholy alliance) is making matters worse. This all has the potential to push the region into further more sectarian rifts. With Syrian stage already set. The delicacy of the situation is not secluded from the palette of the world.

Despite the condemnations from across the globe, humanitarian watch remains blind and failed to address the issues in Syria leaving Syrians in long lasting agony and despair The symphony of pain and suffering continues in the Middle Eastern region while world watches like a vicious sadist, the region becomes a playground for major powers as ‘Uncle Sam” has their own interests in engaging, Kremlin have their own concerns same goes for every single actor who is party to the conflict.

The panacea to the Arabian pain is simple “a sincere determined approach” to the disease. Even if every party with draws from the conflict the situation can get worse due to the generated power vacuum and can make Syria a replica of Iraq. The Syrian grieve needs to be addressed through proper management skills, if not the curse is upon whole region.

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The battle for leadership of the Muslim world: Turkey plants its flag in Christchurch

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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When Turkish vice-president Fuat Oktay and foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu became this weekend the first high-level foreign government delegation to travel  to Christchurch they were doing more than expressing solidarity with New Zealand’s grieving Muslim community.

Messrs. Oktay and Cavusoglu were planting Turkey’s flag far and wide in a global effort to expand beyond the Turkic and former Ottoman world support for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s style of religiously-packaged authoritarian rule, a marriage of Islam and Turkish nationalism.

Showing footage of the rampage in Christchurch at a rally in advance of March 31 local elections, Mr. Erdogan declared that “there is a benefit in watching this on the screen. Remnants of the Crusaders cannot prevent Turkey’s rise.”

Mr. Erdogan went on to say that “we have been here for 1,000 years and God willing we will be until doomsday. You will not be able to make Istanbul Constantinople. Your ancestors came and saw that we were here. Some of them returned on foot and some returned in coffins. If you come with the same intent, we will be waiting for you too.”

Mr. Erdogan was responding to an assertion by Brenton Tarrant, the white supremacist perpetrator of the Christchurch attacks in which 49 people were killed in two mosques, that Turks were “ethnic soldiers currently occupying Europe.”

Messrs. Oktay and Cavusoglu’s visit, two days after the attacks, is one more facet of a Turkish campaign that employs religious as well as traditional diplomatic tools.

The campaign aims to establish Turkey as a leader of the Muslim world in competition with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and to a lesser degree Morocco.

As part of the campaign, Turkey has positioned itself as a cheerleader for Muslim causes such as Jerusalem and the Rohingya at a moment that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Muslim nations are taking a step back.

Although cautious not to rupture relations with Beijing, Turkey has also breached the wall of silence maintained by the vast majority of Muslim countries by speaking out against China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims in the troubled north-western province of Xinjiang.

Mr. Erdogan’s religious and traditional diplomatic effort has seen Turkey build grand mosques and/or cultural centres across the globe in the United States, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa and Asia, finance religious education and restore Ottoman heritage sites.

It has pressured governments in Africa and Asia to hand over schools operated by the Hizmet movement led by exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen. Mr. Erdogan holds Mr. Gulen responsible for the failed military coup in Turkey in 2016.

On the diplomatic front, Turkey has in recent years opened at least 26 embassies in Africa, expanded the Turkish Airlines network to 55 destinations in Africa, established military bases in Somalia and Qatar, and negotiated a long-term lease for Sudan’s Suakin Island in the Red Sea.

The Turkish religious campaign takes a leaf out of Saudi Arabia’s four decade long, USD 100 billion effort to globally propagate ultra-conservative Sunni Islam

Like the Saudis, Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) provides services to Muslim communities, organizes pilgrimages to Mecca, trains religious personnel, publishes religious literature, translates the Qur’an into local languages and funds students from across the world to study Islam at Turkish institutions.

Turkish Muslim NGOs provide humanitarian assistance in former parts of the Ottoman empire, the Middle East and Africa much like the Saudi-led World Muslim League and other Saudi governmental -non-governmental organizations, many of which have been shut down since the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Saudi Arabia, since the rise of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2015, has significantly reduced global funding for ultra-conservatism.

Nonetheless, Turkey is at loggerheads with Saudi Arabia as well as the UAE over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi; Turkish support for Qatar in its dispute with the Saudis and Emiratis; differences over Libya, Syria and the Kurds; and Ankara’s activist foreign policy. Turkey is seeking to position itself as an Islamic alternative.

Decades of Saudi funding has left the kingdom’s imprint on the global Muslim community. Yet, Turkey’s current struggles with Saudi Arabia are more geopolitical than ideological.

While Turkey competes geopolitically with the UAE in the Horn of Africa, Libya and Syria, ideologically the two countries’ rivalry is between the UAE’s effort to establish itself as a centre of a quietist, apolitical Islam as opposed to Turkey’s activist approach and its support for the Muslim Brotherhood.

In contrast to Saudi Arabia that adheres to Wahhabism, an austere ultra-conservative interpretation of the faith, the UAE projects itself and its religiosity as far more modern, tolerant and forward looking.

The UAE’s projection goes beyond Prince Mohammed’s attempt to shave off the raw edges of Wahhabism in an attempt to present himself as a proponent of what he has termed moderate Islam.

The UAE scored a significant success with the first ever papal visit in February by Pope Francis I during which he signed a Document on Human Fraternity with Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the revered 1,000-year-old seat of Sunni Muslim learning.

The signing was the result of UAE-funded efforts of Egyptian general-turned-president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to depoliticize Islam and gain control of Al Azhar that Sheikh Al-Tayeb resisted despite supporting Mr. Al-Sisi’s 2013 military coup.

To enhance its influence within Al Azhar and counter that of Saudi Araba, the UAE has funded  Egyptian universities and hospitals and has encouraged Al Azhar to open a branch in the UAE.

The UAE effort paid off when the pope, in a public address, thanked Egyptian judge Mohamed Abdel Salam, an advisor to Sheikh Al-Tayeb who is believed to be close to both the Emiratis and Mr. Al-Sisi, for drafting the declaration.

“Abdel Salam enabled Al-Sisi to outmanoeuvre Al Azhar in the struggle for reform,” said an influential activist.

The Turkey-UAE rivalry has spilt from the geopolitical and ideological into competing versions of Islamic history.

Turkey last year renamed the street on which the UAE embassy in Ankara is located after an Ottoman general that was at the centre of a Twitter spat between Mr. Erdogan and UAE foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan..

Mr. Erdogan responded angrily to the tweet that accused Fahreddin Pasha, who defended the holy city of Medina against the British in the early 20th century, of abusing the local Arab population and stealing their property as well as sacred relics from the Prophet Muhammad’s tomb,. The tweet described the general as one of Mr. Erdogan’s ancestors.

“When my ancestors were defending Medina, you impudent (man), where were yours? Some impertinent man sinks low and goes as far as accusing our ancestors of thievery. What spoiled this man? He was spoiled by oil, by the money he has,” Mr. Erdogan retorted, referring to Mr. Al-Nahyan.

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Middle East

Who Will Rebuild Syria: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

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After raging for eight years, the violent phase of the Syrian civil war seems to be reaching its final stages, with Idlib as the last holdout. Recently, leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey held talks in Sochi to discuss securing peace in Syria and preventing a large-scale military assault on Idlib, Syria’s last rebel enclave. World leaders have also discussed the the reconstruction of the war-torn country. Russian President Vladimir Putin urged European Union countries to help rebuild Syria, arguing that it would lead to a faster return of refugees from Europe to their country. His efforts have so far been unsuccessful as EU countries refuse to participate in a rebuilding process that involves Bashar Al-Assad. Arab states are considering readmitting Syria into the Arab League and have shown interest in investing in the country’s reconstruction. However, the United States is pressuring the Gulf states to hold back on restoring relations with Syria and investing in its reconstruction. As such, it seems that in addition to Russia, China, Iran, and India are best poised to invest in and benefit from the country’s rebuilding. Former United Nations Special Envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura estimates the cost of Syria’s reconstruction to be 250 billion USD, while the Syrian government estimates the number to be 400 billion USD. Either way, the cost is too high for the Syrian government to finance on its own without the help of its leading businessmen and international partners and allies.

How the Civil War Changed Syria’s Economic Environment

However, during the eight years of ongoing civil war, some prominent faces in Syria’s economic arena have disappeared, giving way to new actors who have positioned themselves and their businesses to benefit from the vacuum created by the civil war and, therefore, became highly influential, obtaining access to Al-Assad’s ‘inner circle’. Some of Bashar Al-Assad’s inner circle members were forced to flee the country, defect to the opposition, or remain neutral—thus losing their favourable position in this inner circle. This applies not only to the decision-making process, but also to the country’s internal economic process. The International Crisis Group’s Peter Harling argues that the war “forced large families to exile or to shut their businesses down and allowed a new generation of wheeler-dealers to emerge.” However, most of these actors and their assets have been sanctioned by the West due to their relationship with, and involvement in projects linked to the Syrian government. This creates a hurdle on the way to Syria’s reconstruction as many businessmen find their own funds—as well as international funds, companies and suppliers—inaccessible.

Economic Sanctions as an Obstacle

Economic sanctions have been successful in limiting the activity of Syria’s economic actors. It didn’t put them out of business as they have developed methods to bypass sanctions. Among those is establishing a close relationship with the Syrian government based on a system of ‘favors’, in which businessmen provide the government with some financial services in return for access to lucrative projects across the country. This poses several obstacles in the face of the country’s reconstruction. How independent are these businessmen from the government as economic actors best poised in terms of access and financial resources to rebuild the country? Given their proximate relationship to the Assad government, it is unlikely that they will gain access to foreign funds needed for the country’s rebuilding. Moreover, do their interests lay in rebuilding infrastructure and improving citizens’ living standards? Or will they rather pursue lucrative projects that are not entirely related to infrastructure, and therefore, will not bring significant benefit to the majority of the population? Furthermore, given the nature of the political and economic process in Syria, foreign companies will need to partner with local Syrian actors who have close ties to the government to be able to effectively invest and participate in the rebuilding process. However, these partnerships are restricted due to economic sanctions. As such, it is important to identify these local actors, their relation to the Syrian government and what initiatives towards rebuilding the country they have taken thus far. The most prominent and currently active businessmen in Syria can be divided into two groups: the ‘old guard’ who have been able to withstand local and external pressures and remain operable, and the ‘new guard’, who saw in the civil war the opportunities to gain access to financially beneficial economic sectors and projects.

Syria’s Most Prominent ‘Old Guards’

Rami Makhlouf is at the top of the ‘old guard’ list. Even under Western sanctions, he is still successfully operating in the country. This is in great part due to his relation to Al-Assad: he is a cousin from mother’s side. Following the outbreak of the war, Makhlouf stated that he would turn to charity and no longer pursue projects that can generate personal gain. However, Makhlouf still has close ties with leading businessmen in the country and is active in several economic sectors, including telecommunications (he owns mobile network company Syriatel), import/export, natural resources, and finance. Moreover, the Makhlouf empire has branches in some European countries, and a team of lawyers creating shell companies and bank accounts to bypass economic sanctions. Therefore, even if at times he is not the face of projects, it is highly likely that Makhlouf is somehow still benefiting from his relations with other businessmen and his numerous shell companies.

Mohammad Hamsho is another infamous old guard who currently serves as Secretary of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce, Secretary of the Federation of Syrian Chambers of Commerce and member of the People’s Assembly for Damascus. In 2018, Hamsho visited Tehran and met with Secretary General of Tehran Chamber of Commerce, Dr. Bahman Eshghi. During the meeting, both sides affirmed their determination to work on improving their economic relation, and signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation between the two countries in various economic, trade, investment and production sectors. However, given that both countries are under sanctions, the magnitude of their economic cooperation is still hard to predict. Hamsho has been subject to US sanctions since 2011, but has been successful in having European sanctions lifted in 2014 on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence of his involvement with the regime. Two prominent Syrian businessmen who landed on the EU’s latest list of sanctioned individuals, published on January 21, 2019, are Nader Qalei and Khaled Al-Zubaidi. The two are leading actors operating in Syria with investments in the construction industry. One of their most significant investments is in the construction of Grand Town, a luxury tourist project. The Syrian government has granted Qalei and Al-Zubaidi a 45-year agreement for this project in exchange for approximately 20% return on revenue. According to the Council of the EU, Qalei and Al-Zubaidi benefit from and/or support the regime through their business activities, in particular through their stake in the Grand Town development. One of the most prominent actors in the country’s media sector is Majd Sleiman, otherwise known as the ‘intelligence boy’, son of Hafez Al-Assad’s cousin. Sleiman is currently the chief executive director of Alwaseet Group, one of the largest media groups in the Middle East and North Africa region. At the age of 25, he was already running several businesses and had established regional and international connections in the Middle East, Africa, East Asia, Europe and the United States. Even though Sleiman is active in the media and publishing sector, which is considered unprofitable, his companies received significant amounts of money from British accounts. This could be indicative of potential money laundering for the Syrian regime through British banks, via Sleiman.

Syria’s Most Prominent ‘New Guards’

With some families falling out of Al-Assad’s favors, and others exiled or unable to operate due to economic sanctions, a few savvy businessmen found an opportunity to fill the newly created vacuum and establish ties with the Al-Assad government by providing it with much needed services. Most prominent among these ‘new guards’ is Samer Foz, a leading Syrian businessman, known for his ruthlessness in conducting business. In fact, in 2013, Foz served a six month jail sentence for killing a Ukrainian/Egyptian businessman in Istanbul, Turkey. Foz is involved in multiple sectors of Syria’s economy, including brokering grain deals, and a stake in a regime-backed joint venture involved in the development of Marota City—a luxury residential and commercial development project. After several of Al-Assad’s former business allies found themselves unable to continue their business activities, Al-Assad welcomed Foz to his inner circle. Moreover, after being heavily affected by the war, Syria’s agricultural industry suffered, and Foz positioned himself as one of the few businessmen with the ability to broker grain deals. As a result, he received access to commercial opportunities through the wheat trade. Through his investments in the food industry and some reconstruction projects, Foz made his way into the inner circle by providing financial and other support to the regime, including funding the Military Security Shield Forces. Notably, Foz maintains very close ties with Iran, as well as Russia and other Western and Arab countries such as Italy, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Lebanon.

Another relatively new name to the arena of businessmen in Syria is Mazen Al Tarazi. Al Tarazi resides in Kuwait and has launched several campaigns in an attempt to get into Al-Assad’s inner circle. One of his campaigns was named “Returning to Syria” in which he pledged to bear the cost of Syrians wanting to return to their country. Moreover, in 2014, he assigned a plane at his own expense to transfer Syrians from Kuwait to Damascus, and back to Kuwait so they can cast their votes in the Presidential election. In 2017, his attempts proved successful and he was granted an investment license for a private airline in Syria, as well as other projects including a deal with Damascus Cham Holdings for a 320 USD million investment in the construction of Marota City. The Syrian Palestinian businessman benefited from his public support of the Assad government. In fact, according to Syrian media, Al Tarazi’s investment in Marota City is the first investment in Syria in which the investor’s share is greater than that of the public sector (51% of the project was owned by Al Tarazi and 49% by the Damascus Holding Company of the Damascus governorate). This investment, as well as his outspoken support for Al-Assad landed him on the EU’s latest list of sanctioned persons. The final businessman on the ‘new guards’ list is Samir Hassan, owner and agent of several companies in Syria, including Nokia and Nikon. After bad harvests due to war, he invested in imports of food supplies, in particular wheat, rice, sugar, and tea, and developed a close relationship with the Al-Assad family. During the civil war and against the background of improved relations with Russia, Hassan was named the Chairman of the Syrian-Russian Business Council, quite a prestigious position given the special relationship between Russia and Syria. Hassan’s investments in the food industry will also be vital during the reconstruction of Syria where he will be able to provide materials and products needed for reviving the agricultural sector, one of the greatest contributors to Syria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Trends in investments of Syria’s Businessmen

In general, businessmen involved in the Marota City and Grand Town projects have found themselves under Western economic sanctions. Most of Syria’s prominent businessmen have invested in these projects thanks to their connections with the government. In addition to some of the figures mentioned above, Anas Talas, Nazir Ahmad Jamal Eddine, Khaldoun Al-Zoubi, Hayan Mohammad, Nazem Qaddour, Maen Rizk Allah Haykal and Bashar Mohammad Assi have been recently sanctioned primarily due to their participation in the construction of Marota City. The Marota City and Grand Town projects are not essential for the country’s reconstruction, as they represent luxury residential and commercial projects and do not contribute to rebuilding the damaged infrastructure. However, several of the mentioned businessmen have been investing in infrastructure-related industries, such as the metal and steel industry, as well as the electrical and food industries. Recently, Hamsho bought “Al Sewedy Cables” factory, previously owned by Egyptian businessman Ahmad Al Sewedy, which produces electrical cables, towers, columns, transformers and circuit breakers, as well as a foundry (metal melting) factory that produces material for construction. Hamsho was able to acquire Al Sewedy’s company after it defaulted on loans given to it by the Islamic Bank of Syria and was sold in an auction. Foz has also been investing in former businessmen’s assets as he secured the ‘empires’ of two Syrian millionaires previously in Al-Assad’s inner circle. Emad Hamisho, previously known as the “economic shark” of Syria, and his family were sanctioned by the Syrian Ministry of Finance in 2013 after defaulting on a loan of 3.8 million Syrian Pounds he had borrowed from the real estate bank. In 2014, the sanctions were lifted without any clarifications on whether Hamisho had settled his account with the ministry or not. In 2018, the Ministry of Finance issued a new decision to sanction the assets of “Hamisho Minerals.” Foz saw an opportunity in it and swooped in. He entered into a partnership with Hamisho and created a new company where he heads the board of directors. Moreover, after a series of tightening measures initiated against him by the Syrian government in the early phases of the civil war, Imad Ghreiwaty decided to gradually transfer his investments abroad and resign from his position as the head of the Union of Chambers of Industry. His assets included a cables company, “Syria Modern Cables”, which Foz bought in 2017. Notwithstanding the manner of purchase, these initiatives are important for the country’s rebuilding, and are profitable for the investors, as they will provide construction material necessary for the reconstruction phase.

Financing Syria’s reconstruction

It is evident that rebuilding Syria will be largely controlled by Al-Assad’s inner circle of businessmen who have preferential access to investments and are best positioned to receive projects and tenders in the upcoming period. However, a few businessmen will not be able to rebuild the country on their own, and even the country’s most prominent and richest businessmen will find themselves limited in their activities due to imposed economic sanctions. While Syria’s allies are willing to help, and have already begun cultivating and consolidating relationships with local actors to gain access to the Syrian market, they are also facing certain limitations. Iran and Russia are constrained by economic sanctions of their own, whereas India and China are reluctant to invest unless they receive security guarantees to insure and protect their investments in Syria. Therefore, while both local and external actors are willing and seek to invest in the lucrative industry of Syria’s rebuilding, they are faced with many obstacles, including economic sanctions. The irony of the matter is that actors who have access and finances to invest in rebuilding Syria cannot do so since their access depends on their relationship with Al-Assad—a relationship that has provided them with opportunities and finances, and landed them on international economic sanctions lists that now restrict their ability to operate at their full capacity. With the United States and European Union unwilling to foot the bill, it remains to see whether the Gulf States will overcome Western pressures, restore ties with Al-Assad and invest in rebuilding Syria.

First published in our partner RIAC

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