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Turkey’s Foreign Policy Balancing Act

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It is often claimed that Turkey made a definitive break with the West in the 2000s after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power. The argument is that by changing direction internally, Ankara turned away from what the West was hoping to achieve in terms of its relations with Turkey.

Since 2003, Turkey has indeed increased its influence in all the geopolitically important regions on its borders: the Black Sea, the South Caucasus, the Balkans, the Mediterranean, and Syria-Iraq. A general concept explaining this development can be found by looking at the map. There is no single great power in Turkey’s neighborhood which opens the door for greater Turkish economic and military engagement along its borders. Even Russia, arguably the biggest power near Turkey, could not prevent Ankara from giving its decisive support to Azerbaijan during the recent Second Karabakh War. Turkish troops, albeit a limited number, are now stationed on Azerbaijani soil alongside Russian.

The real reason for Turkey’s increasing engagement remains the Soviet collapse, though that engagement occurred over a longer period than many analysts expected. It took decades for Turkey to build its regional position. In 2021, it can safely be argued that Ankara has made a success of this venture. It is close to having a direct land corridor to the Caspian Sea (through Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan) and increases its military posture in the Mediterranean, and views northern Syria and Iraq as territories that can potentially provide strategic depth for an Anatolian defense.

A revealing element in Ankara’s foreign policy is that geography still commands the country’s perception of itself and its place in the world, perhaps more so than for any other large country. Rather than being attached solely to the Western axis, over the past two decades, Turkey has pursued a multi-vector approach to foreign affairs.

The country is on the European periphery. Its experience is similar to Russia’s in that both have absorbed extensive western influence, whether in institutions, foreign policy, or culture. Both have been anchored for centuries on the geopolitics of the European continent. Because a multi-vector foreign policy model provides more room for maneuver, economic gains, and growth of geopolitical power, both countries wanted to break free of their single-axis approach to foreign policy.

But neither Turkey nor Russia has had an opportunity to break its dependence on the West entirely. The West has simply been too powerful. The world economy revolved solely around the European continent and the US.

Turkey and Russia have significant territories deep in Asia and the Middle East, as well as geopolitical schools of thought that consider Europe-oriented geopolitical thinking contrary to state interests, particularly as the collective West has never considered either Turkey or Russia to be fully European. The two states have always pursued alternate geopolitical anchors, but had difficulty implementing them. No Asian, African, or any other geopolitical pole has proven sufficient to enable either Turkey or Russia to balance their ties with the West.

No wonder, then, that over the past two decades Turkey has been actively searching for new geopolitical axes. For Ankara, close relations with Russia is a means to balance its historical dependence on European geopolitics. The same foreign policy model can explain Moscow’s geopolitical thinking since the late 2000s, when its ties with Asian states developed quickly as an alternative to a dependence on, and attachment to, Western geopolitics.

Thus we come to the first misconception of Turkish foreign policy: that Ankara is distancing itself from the West with the aim of eventually breaking those ties entirely. Breaking off relations with NATO is not an option for Turkey. Its goal is to balance its deep ties with the West, which for various reasons were no longer producing the benefits it was hoping for, with a more active policy in other regions. Hence Turkey’s resurgence in the Middle East.

Turkey’s Middle East pivot (championed by former FM Ahmet Davutoglu) is not an exceptional development in the country’s foreign policy. During the Cold War, when Turkey’s focus on the Western axis was strong, leftist PM Bulent Ecevit promoted the idea of a “region-centric” foreign policy. The main takeaway was that Ankara should pursue diversification of external affairs beyond its traditional Western fixation, meaning deeper involvement in the Middle East and the Balkans. In 1974-1975, then Turkish deputy PM Necmettin Erbakan tried to pivot Ankara toward the Arab world. There were even attempts to build closer ties with the Soviets.

But throughout this period of reorientation, no move was ever made to sever relations with the West. Turkish politicians at the time believed diversification of foreign ties would benefit the country’s position at the periphery of Europe overlooking the volatile Middle East. The diversification would not hurt the country’s Western axis but would in fact complement it.

Contrary to the belief that Atatürk was solely interested in Turkey’s Western axis, the country under his leadership had close ties with nearby Middle Eastern states, as was necessary considering the geopolitical weight of those states at the time. Thus he hosted Iran’s Shah Reza Pahlavi in 1934, and in 1937 signed a non-aggression pact with Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

The pursuit of a multi-vector foreign policy has been a hallmark of Turkish political thinking. Even during Ottoman times, when a Europe-centered foreign policy was inescapable, the sultans sought alternatives to their dependence on Great Britain and France. Following the disastrous 1877-1878 war with Russia, Sultan Abdul Hamid began a cautious balancing effort by building closer ties with Imperial Germany, a trend that contributed to the German-Turkish alliance forged during WWI.

Returning to the present day, the Chinese factor is causing a reconfiguration in Turkey-West relations. The Asian pivot brings economic promise and increases Ankara’s maneuverability vis-à-vis larger powers like Russia and the EU. This fits into the rise of Turkish “Eurasianism,” the aspirations of which are similar to those that have motivated Russia for the past decade or so.

Turkey’s policies toward the West and the ongoing troubles in bilateral ties can best be described as intra-alliance opposition. It is true that in recent years, Turkey’s opposition to the West within the alliance has intensified markedly, but it has not passed the point of no return. Ankara is well aware that it remains a valuable ally to the collective West.

Author’s note: first published in Georgia today

Emil Avdaliani specializes on former Soviet space and wider Eurasia with particular focus on Russia's internal and foreign policy, relations with Iran, China, the EU and the US. He teaches history and international relations at Tbilisi State University and Ilia State University (Georgia).

Middle East

Drone attacks on Iran may lead to severe consequences

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Footage shows what is said to be the moment of an explosion at a military industry factory in Isfahan, Iran, January 29, 2023, in this still image obtained from a video [Pool/WANA via Reuters]

Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, said at a news conference in Tehran on Sunday that “a cowardly drone attack on a military site in central Iran will not impede Iran’s progress on its peaceful nuclear program.”

American officials quickly sent out word on Sunday morning that the United States was not responsible for the attack. One official confirmed that it had been conducted by Israel but did not have details about the target. Sometimes Israel gives the United States advance warning of an attack or informs American officials as an operation is being launched. It is unclear what happened in this case.

A drone attack on an Iranian military facility that resulted in a large explosion in the center of the city of Isfahan on Saturday was the work of Mossad, Israel’s premier intelligence agency, according to senior intelligence officials who were familiar with the dialogue between Israel and the United States about the incident.

The facility’s purpose was not clear, and neither was how much damage the strike caused. But Isfahan is a major center of missile production, research, and development for Iran, including the assembly of many of its Shahab medium-range missiles, which can reach Israel and beyond.

The purpose of these attacks is not clear immediately but, experts have different opinions.  Weeks ago, American officials publicly identified Iran as the primary supplier of drones to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine, and they said they believed Russia was also trying to obtain Iranian missiles to use in the conflict. But U.S. officials said they believed this strike was prompted by Israel’s concerns about its own security, not the potential for missile exports to Russia.

The strike came just as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken was beginning a visit to Israel, his first since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to office as prime minister. The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, William J. Burns, visited Israel last week, though it is not clear anything about the operation in Isfahan was discussed.

Few experts opinioned that it is to curb Russia-Iran linkages, and hinder their cooperation or limit their collaboration. It may be proved a warning in the expected alliance between them and sabotage. Whereas it might be a signal to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

It is also believed that these attacks may be targeted to isolate China. As the US is hesitant to initiate a direct confrontation with China, but, is harming any other country close to China to isolate it. It is well conceived harming any friend of China is a strong signal to China and exerts pressure on China.

American Conspiracies in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Iran, and all around the globe, may all be to counter China. Even strengthening India is also aimed to counter China. The recent intensive diplomatic activities in ASEAN, around China, are also having the same intentions.

Although Israel is also having to sever enmity with Iran and wanted to avail any opportunity to attack Iran, if American interests also coincide, may be the best opportunity for it. American and Israeli linkages, cooperation, and interests are in line and harmonious. There is no other example of similar relations among any other states in any other part of the world.

For Drone attacks, ground support is required, it is well understood that UAE has facilitated ground support because of Arab-Iran enmity. But, India has also played a vital role in ground facilitation. India is one of its largest economic and trade partners with Iran and on the surface a close friend. India under a few projects like Chahbahar Port, Road, Railway network, etc., has deployed is workforce all over Iran, among them, there are trained intelligence and security personnel. Indian intelligence and security personnel have facilitated Israel such drone attacks. There must be severe consequences and Iran may take appropriate actions or reactions.

However, Global peace is at stake, and spreading any conflict in any part of the world is dangerous for the whole world. Efforts should be intensified to contain confrontations, dissolve issues and limit the risk of destabilizing global peace.

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Middle East

Israelis and Palestinians do what they do best, but for the wrong reasons

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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has put Israel’s closest allies and some of his key partners on the spot.

So has a generation of Palestinian youth that has nothing to lose and no longer sees fruitless engagement with and acquiescence of the Jewish state as a means of realizing their national and socio-economic aspirations.

It’s not that young Palestinians have necessarily given up on a compromise resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the contrary, however, they believe that armed resistance with the Jenin refugee camp on the West Bank as its focal point will provoke a situation the international community will no longer be able to ignore.

Jenin is home to a black market for pistols, AK-47s, Kalashnikovs, and M16s, and thousands of youths caught in a Catch-22 in which they are ineligible for Israeli work permits because they are on a terrorism list.

So far, the Palestinian youth strategy appears to be working, even if US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s visit to the region was aimed at calming tensions rather than solving problems.

Similarly, that was the message that the heads of Egyptian and Jordanian intelligence reportedly gave President Mahmoud Abbas on the same morning that the Palestinian president met with Mr. Blinken.

The intelligence chiefs’ bosses, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordanian King Abdullah, are in good company as they brace for the fallout of escalating Israeli-Palestinian violence.

So is United Arab Emirates President Mohammed bin Zayed who in recent years spearheaded greater Arab engagement with Israel without a prospect for a resolution of the Palestinian problem, and the kings of Bahrain and Morocco, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Mohammed VI, who followed the UAE leader’s lead.

Returning from a rare visit to Sudan this week, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said the two countries would establish formal diplomatic relations by the end of this year.

Unlike Mr. Al-Sisi and the Bahraini and Moroccan monarchs, Mr. Bin Zayed may be less concerned about domestic unrest in response to the Israeli-Palestinian violence but worries that regional security could be compromised by the potential fallout of Israel’s harsh response to Palestinian militancy compounded by a more aggressive Israeli posture towards Iran.

Struggling with an economic crisis, Egypt and Jordan, where Palestinians account for roughly half of the country’s 11 million people, are particularly vulnerable to the Palestinian plight becoming a catalyst for anti-government protest.

This week, Moroccans protested in several cities against their country’s forging two years ago of diplomatic relations with Israel.

The protests were in anticipation of Morocco’s hosting in March in the disputed Western Sahara a meeting of the foreign ministers of Israel, the United States, the UAE, and Bahrain to celebrate the anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Arab and Jewish states.

Last month, Jordanian security forces and protesters, angry about rising fuel prices and poor governance, clashed in the southern city of Maan.

Such demonstrations have a life of their own, and in a moment, they can turn into a protest against the government, poverty, and waste, and we have a direct confrontation whose results can be lethal,” said an Egyptian journalist.

All of this plays into the hands of militant Palestinian youth.

So does Mr. Netanyahu, as he accommodates hardline Jewish nationalist and ultra-conservative religious figures in his Cabinet who are in charge of national security and Palestine-related affairs.

To be sure, Mr. Netanyahu, in response to last Friday’s killing of Jewish worshippers at a synagogue, refrained from striking back with a sledgehammer as Israel typically does. Mr. Blinken’s visit may have been one reason for Mr. Netanyahu’s reticence.

Israeli officials suggest that behind closed doors, Mr. Blinken and other recent US visitors, including National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and CIA Director Bill Burns, made clear that even if the US and Iran were on one page regarding Iran for the first time in years, their immediate concerns were related to Palestine and the threat to Israeli democracy posed by Mr. Netanyahu’s plans to undermine the independence of his country’s Supreme Court.

“It is a tragedy that we are forced to deal with less important and burning issues at this time. Our mind is on Iran, but our feet are stuck in Silwan,” said a senior Israeli security official, referring to the east Jerusalem neighborhood that is a hotspot of Palestinian-Israeli violence

“The Americans are exerting heavy pressure on the Palestinian issue and equally heavy pressure on the threat to Israeli democracy arising from the Netanyahu government’s legislative blitz. We’re talking to them about Iran and Saudi Arabia, while they want to talk about Jenin and Shireen Abu Akleh and democracy,” a former diplomatic official added.

The former official was referring to last week’s Israeli raid in Jenin, where 10 Palestinians were killed, and the killing last year of Al Jazeera journalist Abu Akleh.

Adopting a more aggressive stance against Iran, Israel is believed to have last month attacked a long-range missile production plant in the Iranian city of Esfahan as well as truck convoys along the Iraq-Syria border convoys carrying ammunition and weapons for Hezbollah, the pro-Iranian Lebanese militia.

Moreover, last week, the US and Israeli militaries staged their most significant and complex exercise to date in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Nevertheless, Mr. Blinken sent mixed messages during his visit, the Israeli assessments of their talks with Mr. Blinken and the two countries’ closer military ties notwithstanding,

For the first time on a visit by a secretary of state, Mr. Blinken met with Israeli civil society organisations focused on LGBTQ rights, integration of ultra-religious Jews and Palestinian Israelis in the Israeli workforce, and Jewish-Palestinian co-existence.

No human rights or other groups working towards an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank were invited.

Even so, the militants and the policies enunciated by the Netanyahu government can take credit for the US focus.

The militants’ resorting to arms, Israel’s harsh response, and Israeli policies that ever more flagrantly violate international law and the Geneva conventions make it increasingly difficult for the United States and Europe to look the other way and for Arab states that maintain diplomatic relations with the Jewish states to limit themselves to verbal condemnations.

Israel’s response so far includes trying to push through legislation that many Palestinians say would amount to collective punishment. It would result in the expedited demolition of the homes of family members of Palestinians who’ve carried out attacks and plans to make it easier for Israelis to get guns.

That has not stopped Azerbaijan from dispatching its first ambassador to Israel in three decades of diplomatic relations with the Jewish state amid escalating tensions with Iran, its southern neighbour, or Chad inaugurating the African country’s first embassy in the country during a visit to Israel by President  Mahamat Deby.

Some analysts argue that the militants’ tactics may be a double-edged sword. Their tactics could backfire, and the militants could fall into a trap if the United States and others effectively remain on the sidelines.

“The deepest tragedy is that the Israeli extreme right seems to be counting on Palestinian rage and desperation to provide them with the opportunity to go as far as they can in their twin goals of annexation and expulsion,” cautioned columnist Hussein Ibish.

In a twist or irony, hardliners on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide may find that escalation serves both their interests, even if those interests are diametrically opposite.

Palestinian militants see increased Israeli brutality and violations of international law and the Geneva conventions as making it more difficult for the United States and others to stay on the sidelines or go through the motions of seeking to calm the situation.

So far, the US way to do so does not even amount to a band-aid, let alone a solution. The US is pressuring 86-year-old President Mahmoud’s Palestine Authority to revive security cooperation with Israel and take back control of Jenin and the West Bank city of Nablus.

The US proposition misses a key point: much like West Bank Palestinian militancy in the past, Palestinian youths’ despair is fuelled as much by Israeli policy as it is by the rejection of corrupt and ineffective Palestinian leadership.

“Twenty years ago, we made peace with Israel, but they don’t respect any of it. So, we’re done. We want destruction,” said Ahmad Qassem.

A 24-year-old resident of Jenin. Mr. Qassem has not found work since finishing ninth grade, his last year of school. He was last year released from an Israeli prison after a two-year administrative detention, during which he was never charged or granted a trial.

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Middle East

Sisi’s visit to Armenia and Azerbaijan to join the Eurasian Union and BRICS

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Photo Credit: Official Facebook Page for the Spokesman of the Egyptian Presidency

President El-Sisi’s visit to India, followed by Armenia and Azerbaijan, came as an affirmation from the Egyptian side and its president, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, of Egypt’s desire to enter into several giant economic blocs, led by the BRICS with the help of China and India, and then the Eurasian Union with the help of Russia and Armenia mainly.  Rather, let us transfer the experience of the Eurasian Union to Egypt and the countries of the region, which is considered as a project for economic and political integration, based on the customs union of the countries of (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia), as well as the countries of the United Economic Zone, and announcing later its expansion plan, to include other countries of the economic group.  Eurasian, which is known for short as:

(EurAsEC Group)

  From my point of view and my reading of the general political and economic scene of the Egyptian state, and of President Sisi’s moves towards the east mainly, away from those complex calculations of Washington and the West and the political and economic conditionality of the International Monetary Fund and Western loans, Egypt’s accession to the Eurasian Union, or what is known as the Group of Independent States, will enable Egypt in the coming period to  An alliance worked with those countries, leading to the establishment of a free trade zone between Egypt and the countries of the Eurasian Union, led by Russia and Armenia, leading to the establishment of the customs union between Egypt and the countries of Eurasia, ending with the establishment of the United Economic Zone, and even planning to establish a unified currency for the countries of the Eurasian Union, which facilitates  The process of trade exchange between Egypt and those countries in the future, and of course contributes to the impact on the strength of the US dollar and its collapse and devaluation in the end.

  Also, President El-Sisi’s moves towards India, then Armenia and Azerbaijan in particular, is part of the Egyptian support for the eastern bloc, headed by China, Russia and then India.  This reflects the Egyptian vision to enter into the Eurasian Union, so that the emergence of this Eurasian Union can be seen as part of the announced Russian strategy to restore the importance it had previously on the international political arena during the so-called Cold War during the Soviet Union period, and this is mainly in the interest of Egypt and its President El-Sisi moves towards the Eastern Bloc and his aspiration to join the BRICS membership and then the Eurasian Union, so that this Eurasian Union will in the end serve as a counterweight to the European Union, in addition to the role of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes in its membership both Russia and China.

 Also, the Eurasian Union, led by Russia and Armenia, was able to create a single currency like the euro in the European Union, which is to be called the “Altyn currency”.

 It will be a balance to the forces of the European Union in the eastern bloc, led by Russia, China, India, and then Armenia, with an invitation to the rest of Central Asian countries to join the single Eurasian currency later, which serves the Egyptian side and the economic agendas of developing countries in the foreseeable future, and reduces the value of the dollar in the long run.

 Bearing in mind, the United States opposes the Eurasian customs union project for the easy transfer of goods and commodities between countries, and Washington sees it as an attempt to re-establish Russian hegemony in the concept of the Soviet Union among the post-Soviet states.

  This was explicitly announced by the Russian President, “Vladimir Putin”, that his goal is to expand the membership of the Eurasian Customs Union, to include all post-Soviet countries, to include the Baltic countries that are members of the European Union, on top of which are:

(Armenia – Azerbaijan – Georgia – Kyrgyzstan – Moldova – Tajikistan – Turkmenistan – Ukraine – Uzbekistan)

 In addition to allowing the presence of countries that act as observer members, as is the case in most international federations and blocs, which makes it easier for Egypt, in the event of its completion, to open strong and influential economic and investment partnerships with those countries in the eastern bloc, away from the calculations and pressures of the West.

 The Egyptian Ministry of Trade and Industry has already started several rounds and serious and actual negotiations to join the Eurasian Union with Russia, Armenia and the countries forming it, and it was announced in June 2021 the success of the fourth round of free trade agreement negotiations between Egypt and the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union, with the aim of integration in common economic issues.  Among the countries joining it, and this is what Egypt and President El-Sisi aspire to at the present time.

 The fourth round of negotiations between Egypt and the Eurasian Union countries has already ended in the Russian capital, Moscow, with the Egyptian side making tremendous efforts to join the Eurasian Union.  This was mainly welcomed by the Russian side, and then President El-Sisi’s visit to Armenia strengthened the ability of the Egyptian file to join the Eurasian Union. This was reflected in the strong will and desire of all parties to accept the Egyptian side’s request for membership in the Eurasian Customs Union, in the heart of which is Russia and then Armenia.

  President El-Sisi’s visit to Armenia comes as an important occasion, to move forward towards completing the Egyptian side’s membership file, to complete the negotiations and reach a comprehensive and balanced agreement that meets the aspirations of the Egyptian people and all the peoples of the Eurasian Union countries to develop trade exchange, and enhance industrial and investment cooperation between its parties.  In addition to strengthening rapprochement between Egypt and all its parties in all aspects of economic cooperation and opening prospects for future cooperation between all parties.

  Hence, we conclude that President El-Sisi’s moves towards Armenia and Azerbaijan were carefully calculated and planned by the Egyptian side, to join the powerful Eurasian Union bloc, because President El-Sisi realizes that the success of the agreement with the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union will contribute to strengthening trade, industrial and joint investment cooperation between Egypt and the countries.  Eurasian Union.  In addition, that Egyptian membership in the Eurasian Union bloc next to Russia and Armenia, and then the rest of the former Soviet Union countries, will support the system of transferring expertise and advanced industrial technologies to the Egyptian national industry in various productive sectors, in a way that enhances the capacity and strength of the Egyptian market and transfers various and different experiences to it.

 Here we can understand and analyze the reason for President El-Sisi’s moves to that Eurasian region represented in Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as strengthening Egypt’s relations with the Russian, Chinese and Indian sides, because President El-Sisi and the Egyptian side realize that the agreement with the countries of the Eurasian bloc referred to will support inter-regional trade between Egypt and the countries  Central and North Asia and Europe across and between the countries of the Eurasian Union, and with the markets of the Arab countries and the countries of the African continent through the Egyptian market, through free and preferential trade agreements that link Egypt to those markets, knowing that the volume of trade exchange between Egypt and the countries of the Eurasian Union is with the membership of Russia and Armenia only,  It has reached more than $5 billion, and that percentage is likely to increase if Egypt is officially accepted as a member of the Eurasian bloc and the Eurasian Union, according to plans by President El-Sisi and the Ministry of Industry and Trade in Cairo.

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