Permanent election campaign or tactical strategy?

Permanent election campaign or tactical strategy?

“I am no longer surprised by the surprise capacity of the Turkish prime minister,” said an observer of Turkey who is based in Brussels. Yet, Turkey’s policies continue to be a source of confusion in Brussels, which is understandable given the contradictory signals coming from Turkey. The government’s Syria policy has shifted 180 degrees. Turkish envoys, who were trying to convince Europeans of the need to soften the isolation policy toward Damascus, are now encouraging Brussels to implement stronger sanctions against Syria.

Just a year ago, Turkey was seen as the main stumbling block against NATO’s plans to adopt a missile defense system. Now, Turkey has become a key country for the implementation of this system as it has agreed to host the U.S. radars.

Turkey’s realignment with Western policies has pleasantly surprised Brussels, but it is in turn perplexed by the prime minister’s harsh rhetoric on the Kurdish issue as well as the Cyprus problem.

“It seems that Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan is in a permanent election campaign,” said another Turkey observer in Brussels. Turkey observers find it hard to understand why he is opting for a military solution in contrast to the expectation that he would push ahead with his democratic opening following his huge election victory. The reaction to Greek Cyprus’ decision to start drilling for natural gas is also seen as disproportionate.

Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias, who is in a difficult situation both at home and abroad, has proved to be successful at diverting the attention from himself to Ankara, which seems to have fallen into that trap by using a harsh rhetoric. Yet Christofias might be falling into his own trap as well.

The Cyprus issue has long disappeared off the world’s radar screen; military escalation could well put Cyprus back on the agenda, resulting in more pressure on both sides of the island to heat up the peace talks.

There is ample experience on managing crisis diplomacy with the Turkey/Greece/Cyprus trio. Yet we have no track record on possible military escalation between Turkey and Israel. The Mavi Marmara experience showed that things can get out of control despite phone calls between three capitals.

Despite the prime minister’s harsh rhetoric, the likelihood of a Turkish-Israeli military confrontation is very low, especially at a time when relations with Syria and Iran are shaky. Actually, the realities on the ground seem not to have shaken Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s romantic vision for the Middle East, as he looks to have pinned his hopes on an alliance with Egypt. His vision for a democratic axis with Egypt, explained in an interview with the New York Times, is very premature as things are still very shaky in that country. At the end of the day, it will be the realities on the ground that outweigh visions, no matter how well-intentioned these visions may be.

At some stage (which will probably come following a change in government in Israel), realities on the ground are going to necessitate a reconciliation with Israel. At that stage, I would not be surprised if Turkey turns a blind eye to sharing the information coming from the radars based in Turkey with Israel and even starts negotiations to buy Israel’s Arrow ballistic missile defense system