Russian crisis an opportunity to mend Turkey-Israel ties
The first face-to-face meeting which took place between senior Turkish and Russian officials in Belgrade on Dec. 3 has proven the words of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who suggested Moscow’s reaction to Turkey’s downing its warplane would not be a short-term act.
It’s obvious that Russia’s sanctions on Turkey will not be limited to trade restrictions or cancellations of major economic projects, as they will likely be designed to harm Turkey’s political and strategic interests in regions where the two countries’ interests clash, particularly in the Middle East (Syria and Iraq), the Caucasus and all of Eurasia.
Given the fact that Putin will not back down in the short-term, Turkey should also make a new assessment of the changing nature of the balances in the aforementioned regions, especially the Middle East, in a bid to address potential challenges posed by Russia. These assessments, listed in this column, can also be described as lessons to be learned from the Russian crisis by Turkish diplomacy:
Western orientation: President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan should now be better enlightened as to why his insistent calls for Putin to let Turkey join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, or “Shanghai Five” - which brings together China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan for economic, political and military joint objectives - were considered absurd and unrealistic by the West.
Erdoğan’s insistence in joining this organization was regarded as yet another move aiming to distance Turkey from Euro-Atlantic structures, a concern that deepened after the Turkish government’s decision to choose a controversial Chinese defense industry company for its multi-billion dollar anti-ballistic missile defense system (Turkey only two weeks ago announced that it had cancelled this project with China).
This crisis has shown once again that the main pillar of Turkey’s foreign policy is its strong foundation with Western organizations, namely NATO and the EU. Syria’s downing of a Turkish warplane in 2012 and its continued hostility towards Turkey has already – though partially - woken up Erdoğan and the Turkish leadership that rushed Brussels to invoke Article 4 of the NATO Treaty and request the deployment of Patriot air defense systems. It was quite symbolic but also very important that Turkey’s first thing to do on Nov. 24 after it downed the Russian jet was to call the NATO council for an emergency meeting.
NATO’s institutional and member countries’ individual support in the aftermath of the incident has proven once again how Turkey’s place within these bodies is important and vital. The NATO council’s decision to upgrade Turkey’s defense and deployment of more air and naval vessels to the region is a concrete demonstration of this support.
An equally important development took place last weekend in Brussels when a summit was held between Turkish and EU leaders to sort out the refugee problem while at the same time take concrete steps to accelerate Turkey’s accession process for full EU membership.
In short, the Russian crisis has taught Turkish leadership - once again - that any attempt to divert Turkey’s direction from the West would not only be adventurous but also dangerous.
Ties with Israel: The Turkish-Russian crisis will also have an impact on the status quo in the Middle East, particularly from the Israeli perspective. The tension between Turkey and Russia will allow Israel to take a side in this standoff, and there are many reasons why it would be the Turkish side. Russia’s growing military alliance with Iran with the deployment of S-300 missile systems and with Hezbollah to strengthen Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime are sufficient reasons why Israel would like to break the ice with Turkey and reinstate political and diplomatic dialogue.
That would, in return, give Turkey the chance to regain its role in the Arab-Israeli conflict and therefore expand its influence to the broader Middle East. With the elections over in Turkey and the government established, there seems to be a suitable environment for the accomplishment of compensation talks between the two countries and therefore the appointment of ambassadors to each other’s capitals.
This could also be seen as a beginning of a new era in which Turkey and Egypt could also try to seek an environment for dialogue.
Diversification of energy resources: One of the positive outcomes of the Russian sanctions is the cancellation of what they call the Turkish Stream, a pipeline proposed by Putin in December 2014. This column had underlined several times that Turkey should be cautious about signing projects that would increase its already high dependency on Russian energy sources.
From an energy security perspective, Turkey should have already exerted more efforts to transit Caspian resources to European markets via its territories. That’s why Erdoğan’s deal with Qatar for additional liquefied natural gas (LNG) supply to Turkey and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s visit to Azerbaijan, where he announced that the construction process of the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline Project (TANAP) would be accelerated, were important.
To this end, seeking ways to diversify resources would surely include northern Iraqi and Israeli reserves so that Turkey could decrease its dependence to Russian sources from 65 percent to more reasonable levels.
Why democracy is essential: Another very important lesson one has to draw from this crisis is the fact that countries ruled with democracy and rule of law are the best partners for a long-term, sustainable and predictable partnership. With full pragmatic understanding, the Turkish leadership has long been ignoring the authoritarian rule of Putin in his country and his bullying attitudes towards its neighbors in the Caucasus and Eurasia because of their lucrative business opportunities.
This does not mean that Turkey should not make any business or cut political ties with undemocratic countries, but it should be cautious in signing long-term strategic deals or undertaking joint ventures with such countries.
Having said that, Turkey’s leadership should also understand the value of being a democratic country, have full respect for the international community and genuinely adhere to EU standards and norms. Democracy is the most essential requirement for a country’s peace and comfort inside and outside its borders.