Despite its 80 million citizens, its rapidly growing economy and its large military, Turkey has failed to position itself as an influential regional element. The Islamist government’s new policy, which is premised on Neo-Ottomanism (a return to the Ottoman Empire’s glory days,) registered a series of stinging diplomatic failures in recent years.
The only achievement of this policy is the economy, which enabled Erdogan and his party to reinforce their political status within Turkey. However, Turkey’s influence in the regional and international theater is slim. Below are a few reminders:
• Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union failed. Erdogan, who designated this issue as a top priority for Turkish diplomacy made sweeping changes to Turkey’s laws and constitutions and also granted far-reaching concessions to the Kurds. However, France and Germany blew him off in a rather insulting manner.
• With the exception of Turkey, no other state in the world recognizes the Northern Cyprus, the republic established by Ankara after invading Cyprus in 1974. This is the case despite the efforts invested by Ankara for almost 40 years to elicit international recognition of the Turkish entity and the settlements established there. On the other hand, the Greek Cyprus was accepted as a member of the European Union.
• Under American pressure, Turkey agreed to reconciliation with Armenia on condition that the latter would put an end to accusations regarding the Armenian Holocaust. However, the Armenian parliament refused to ratify the agreement. Yet another slap in the face for Turkey.
• Turkey was Muammar Gaddafi’s
most important ally in the years before the Libyan uprising. Turkish companies invested billions in the oil-rich Libya. Hence, when the uprising started Turkey tried to have it both ways – on the one hand it tried to avert a NATO operation against Gaddafi and his loyalists, yet on the other hand it condemned the killing of civilians. Yet NATO members and the UN disregarded Turkey’s objection and embarked on an aerial assault that prompted Gaddafi’s ouster.
• In 2009, Turkey warmed up its ties with Iran,
yet recently the relationship has cooled off considerably. The Shiite ayatollahs in Tehran realized how much the Sunni Turkey gains from the commercial ties with Iran. Now, they also view Ankara as a dangerous rival and threat to the regional hegemony that Iran is trying to secure. In the last two months, Tehran’s displeasure turned into fury thanks to Erdogan’s hostile, patronizing and arrogant attitude towards the Assad regime
Iran’s most important strategic ally in the area. Iran was also infuriated by the seizure of an arms shipment Tehran tried to transfer to Syria via Turkish airspace.
• On the Palestinian front, Turkish leaders failed a few weeks ago to promote the reconciliation process between Hamas
and Mashaal came to Istanbul, but the Turks failed to even arrange a meeting between them. There was no dialogue whatsoever based on the Turkish proposals.
• The most colossal Turkish policy failure as of late has to do with the ties with Syria. Turkey makes threats, Assad ignores them, yet Ankara does nothing. It did not even impose effective, painful economic sanctions on Syria, despite the fact that Assad’s Alawite-Shiite regime is massacring Sunni Syrians, Turkey’s natural allies.
There is not enough room here to make note of all of Turkey’s diplomatic failures in recent years on the regional and global front. But why is this the case? Why is a large, powerful and economically successful state failing to translate these attributes into becoming an influential regional element?
The answer to the above question can be summarized into three words: Lack of credibility. Turkey under Erdogan’s leadership is neither a reliable ally nor a credible rival.
For example, in 2003, when the Bush Administration was about to invade Iraq, Erdogan refused to allow the American army to pass through Turkish territory. Washington begged and offered Ankara economic and military perks, but the Islamist Erdogan refused to allow a Western country in its war against a murderous Muslim tyrant.
As to credibility vis-à-vis rivals, current events in the Syrian-Turkish arena speak for themselves. The Erdogan government’s lack of credibility is also reflected by the constant Turkish attempt to have it both ways and the shifts from one political position to the next based on short-term interests. The above examples highlight this as well.
Moreover, we should make note of the style of Turkish policy led by Erdogan. Instead of restraint and sound judgment, as one would expect from the leader of a great power, Erdogan resorts to impassioned zeal and makes threats as if he was the neighborhood thug. His short fuse and violent speech are reminiscent of our own Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman.
Just like him, Erdogan too makes rash, extreme statements that he has no military or political ability to realize or desire to implement. Erdogan also tends to realize the damage of his steps later on and try to minimize it.
In recent years, Turkey showed consistent and growing hostility
Nonetheless, the State of Israel should aim to restore the ties, mostly because Turkey is important for the US, which is important to us. American bases in Turkey serve as a frontal logistic position for US and NATO troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Turkey also affects stability within Iraq and the prevention of an Iranian takeover after the US withdrawal.
Hence, it is very important not to place Washington in a situation where it’s torn between its obligations to its two Mideastern allies. As a trustworthy, strategic ally, Israel now needs to lower its profile and minimize the damages if possible. However, Israel should not be apologizing and should firmly stand up to legal and diplomatic challenges every time Erdogan slams them in our face.