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CİHAN ÇELİK > Frustrated Turkey sees diplomatic cold shoulder in Gaza crisis

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A new deadly phase in the decades-long confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians seemed to be ebbing late this week amid a fragile and troubled cease-fire, whose ultimate duration is still in doubt due to sporadic clashes, while behind-the-door mediating efforts for the truce appeared as a diplomatic cold shoulder to Turkey.

For the last couple of years, Turkish leaders have been in a desperate attempt to position the country, which for decades pursued a foreign policy asleep in the arms of Morpheus, as a “regional leader with an influence on core international issues.” The Herculean task was first modeled based on Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s “zero-problem policy,” with which Turkey tried to mend unsettled ties with its neighbors, including now-arch-nemeses Syria and Iraq.

To cut a long story short, the zero-problem policy ended up with more problems with neighbors than ever with the changing and conflicting power relations in the region. Thus, Turkey, which attempted to emerge as the “long-lost peacemaker” in the region with its fast-tracked mediating efforts, has found itself in a position in which it needs mediators for its regional relations.

Amid the unexpected eruption of popular upheavals, now widely referred to as the “Arab Spring,” Turkey was unfazed despite its obvious failure in its tough task of becoming a peace-broker and tailored its regional-based international overtures to a new level, in which it was purported to be a “model” for its neighbors witnessing massive political changes. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was not only among the first to call on long-time rulers to hear the demands of their people, but he was also among the first to give blessings to the new regimes with vows of support or even with visits. But the idea of being a model, which was polished by both national and international actors, also blurred around the edges since the countries that saw regime changes after the reign of long-time rulers moved to shape their futures on their own.

Still, the Turkish leaders were insistent and the recent Gaza crisis gave them a new chance to prove Turkey’s regional influence. However, that chance also backfired, as Turkey has been replaced by the ineffective elder state of Egypt, whose new Muslim Brotherhood leadership was courted by the idea of returning to the “good old days.” The reverse was ultimately triggered by a couple of factors, some of which were out of Turkey’s control.

The enduring harsh bashing of Israel has surely hindered Turkey’s efforts, but it was not the only one. The relatively calm stance by the Egyptian leadership seemed more reassuring for international powers, mainly Washington, as U.S. President Barack Obama threw his support behind Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, apparently not only for a solution to the Gaza crisis but also for a boost in his country’s ties with Cairo. The interesting points were the positioning of both Turkey and Israel in the process. While Turkey’s ties with the U.S. became chillier with the continuing criticism of its premier, Israel was also sidelined by Obama, who was somewhat removed from his ally’s deadly operation in comparison to his predecessors.

When the dust settled over Israel’s aggression on Gaza, what Turkey found on its plate was another failed attempt to emerge as an influent regional player amid its last-minute hopes for recognition with growing frustration, as well as defiance.

November/24/2012

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