Turkey repairing ties with Middle East nations

Turkey repairing ties with Middle East nations

The period between 2013 and 2020 was not the brightest years of Turkish diplomacy. Good analysis to understand it should include international trends, regional crises, and Turkey’s domestic problems.

The Syrian civil war – which will mark its 10th anniversary on March 15 — should be put on top of the long list of regional crises that had a very negative impact on Turkey’s foreign and security policies. Today, all the senior Turkish government officials and diplomats acknowledge that Turkey’s policies concerning Syria were wrongful and too ambitious. Turkey is still paying economic, security, social, and political costs.

Besides, the transformation of the Arab Spring from popular political revolution to oppressive regimes also weakened Turkey’s ties with many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.

Domestically, the malign attempted coup in mid-2016 by FETÖ had also given an enormous blow to Turkey’s foreign policy as it launched a big campaign against the global structure of the terror group which was spread to all continents, with its head, Fethullah Gülen, residing in the United States.

The post-coup attempt period had resulted in worsening ties with the European countries and the European Union as well. These countries criticized the government for an unproportioned crackdown on political opponents. Last but not least, ties with the EU had an additional hit due to overlapping continental shelf claims by Turkey and the Greece/Greek Cyprus duo in 2020.

To crown it all, in December 2020, Turkey was subject to U.S. sanctions over its purchase and deployment of S-400s and EU sanctions – although not biting – due to tension in the east Mediterranean. Plus, all that did happen just before the new U.S. administration under President Joe Biden was to take office in January 2021.

That was this entire unpromising picture that seemingly pushed the government to undergo a holistic restoration of the foreign policy. This will surely take time as the past period had ruined confidence between Turkey and its regional partners in Europe and the Middle East. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s statements envisage a positive way ahead on ties with especially the latter.

On Egypt, it has already been known that Çavuşoğlu was in contact with his counterpart Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on the sidelines of international meetings. Plus, regular diplomatic contacts between the two countries’ embassies continue. The most important thing Çavuşoğlu underlined is the fact that both need time to restore confidence. Within this frame, developments in Libya will play an important role. Many in Ankara believe that the ongoing political process in this country will have its impacts on Turkey’s dialogue with Egypt and other nations.

Prospects for mending ties with Egypt cannot be separately thought from Turkey’s poor ties with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Çavuşoğlu said Turkey has no problem with either country and was ready to reconcile through the mutual steps. Obviously, the normalization of ties between Qatar and the rest of the Gulf is seen as a positive asset should the latter want to shake hands with Turkey as well.

But as was mentioned by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on March 12, Saudi Arabia’s joint military drill with Greece in the eastern Mediterranean is not seen as a friendly move by Ankara. Similar military cooperation was observed between Greece and other Arab nations, Egypt and the UAE and it’s actually the result of Turkey’s long-term isolation in the region. Time is surely needed to heal the negativities of the past.

Likewise, ties with Israel are also believed to improve in the coming period, perhaps after the elections in this country. Instead of recalling why Ankara and Tel Aviv strained ties in the past, it will be much more useful for them to calculate what positive projects in the fields of economy, energy, etc. they may come up with once they restore ties. Both Turkey and Israel have good relations with other regional powers, like Azerbaijan and Qatar, and that already outlines a potential synergy out of the cooperation of these four nations.
After a difficult decade in foreign policy, it is encouraging that Turkey is taking new initiatives in a bid to repair ties. But, obviously, it takes two to tango. It will be in the best mutual interest if these aforementioned countries take a step forward, too.

Serkan Demirtaş,