Turkey’s new axis
The terrorist attack at Istanbul Atatürk Airport on June 28 is both a result and a reason for the change in Turkey’s foreign policy.
Ankara’s recent normalization efforts with Israel, Russia and Egypt will only serve to increase cooperation and coordination against ISIS. Normalization with Russia will also enable Turkey to become more active in Syria, removing the possibility of a potential clash with Russian jets. This all might have brought forward the timing of the terrorist attack.
But this attack in particular - and terrorist attacks in general - will only trigger further cooperation and strengthen bilateral relations between regional partners. This is precisely the reason behind Turkey’s recent flirtation with the countries it has long been at odds with.
Last week Ankara first came to terms with Israel, with which it has been at loggerheads since 2010. Right after that it normalized its relations with Russia, which had been frozen since last November. On top of that, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım declared that “there is no obstacle to improving economic and military relations with Egypt.”
The region is in disarray. The deep wave of terror and instability spreading from within Iraq and Syria encircle Turkey from its southern borders.
What’s more, both Iraq and Syria are drifting increasingly into Iran’s orbit. The U.S., on the other hand, is not likely to take any action until a new president comes to office. In the meantime, cooperation between the U.S. and Russia has peaked and just about ended up with a military agreement on Syria. In light of these developments, Ankara is trying its best to expand its room for maneuver and strengthen its hand by joining a new axis composed of Israel, Egypt, the Gulf countries and Russia.
Since the beginning of the war, Turkey has been moving in full compliance with Qatar and Saudi Arabia in its Syria policy. Those two states have thus become Ankara’s main allies in the region. Their strongest common ground has been their regional rivalry with Iran.
Israel, on the other hand, has been flirting with the Gulf countries against Iran, its main enemy. It is getting closer to the Saudis behind the scenes, even if not openly. Indeed, according to a leaked “Panama paper,” King Salman bin Abdulaziz even sponsored Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu’s election campaign last year by giving him $80 million.
This is precisely the regional context that brings together Turkey, Israel and the Gulf countries.
The friendship between Egypt and Saudi Arabia is also blossoming. Their relations peaked upon Saudi support for al-Sisi’s coup d’état in 2013. Most recently King Salman managed to transfer two Red Sea islands from Egypt during his five-day visit to the country in April. These islands, Tiran and Sanafir, which had been controlled by Cairo since 1950, have been transferred thanks to mutual consent between Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the U.S.
Within this axis of Israel-Egypt-Gulf, the interests of Turkey and Egypt overlap to a great extent, urging the two countries to mend their ties.
Russia stands in the midst of this equation. President Vladimir Putin has recently become bosom friends with the Gulf countries and Israel, and he has been a strong supporter of al-Sisi from the start.
Within the new axis, Turkey is entering a new phase full of infinite variables and high risks.