Seven comments on seven developments in Turkey’s foreign policy
Ahmet Hakan - ISTANBULDaily Hürriyet’s Ahmet Hakan has interviewed prominent political scientist and journalist Soli Özel on seven recent subjects related to Turkish foreign policy.
Below is Hakan’s full interview with Özel, commenting on recent developments around the region, from the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Bashiqa Camp near Mosul and the downing of the Russian jet to Syria’s future and EU-Turkey relations.
1) The withdrawal of Turkish troops from Mosul
Turkish troops and tanks stationed at the Bashiqa camp near Mosul on Dec. 14 had to withdraw over U.S. pressure. Why did the U.S. get involved?
The U.S. wants to remove Iraqi Prime Minister (Haider al-Abadi) from the claw of Iran. That is the reason why the U.S. wants the Iraqi prime minister’s power not to be shaken, which is already non-existent. This is also the primary reason that the incident got to (U.S. President Barack) Obama’s phone call.
You mean that the sole purpose is to save the Iraqi prime minister’s prestige?
The rest would be speculation from my point of view.
Then what was the aim of Turkey’s ruling authorities?
That incident took place right after Turkey was left aside following the downing of the Russian jet. I think such a thought as “can we gain a place in Iraq which we lost in Syria?” had an impact. The recent meeting traffic should also be observed. Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani (the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government - KRG) was in Saudi Arabia. Then he came to Turkey and was taken to the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the General Staff headquarters. These are not things we could interpret favorably even if we saw them in our dreams. Turkey wanted to say, “Do not consider me out of the game. Look, I am in contact with the head of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government and still an effective player there. As you can see, I sent 25 tanks and 600 troops; you have to include me in the game.”
Were the possible reactions not predicted?
When you make such a move without looking around, you are stepping on many players’ feet and they repel you. What has happened now (as a result)? We have fallen into a weaker situation compared to 10 days ago.
It was a pity for Turkey’s weight, reputation and seriousness. I cannot understand the fact that it was impossible to not see where this was going. The reactions were obvious and it was also clear that you cannot resist that. Why would you put yourself in such a position? I really cannot understand that.
2) Turkey-Israel relations
Why does Turkey want to normalize relations with Israel? How do you comment on that?
This is the meeting of “two alones.” Both Turkey and Israel are alone; two alones coming together.
Turkey’s position in the region was very different in 2010 when the Mavi Marmara tragedy happened. Turkey was very powerful while Israel was a country which was seriously becoming isolated, and still is. Today, since Turkey is becoming at least as isolated as Israel, the convergence of these two countries is the meeting of two alones.
Can there be another reason for this convergence?
I think many things that will happen in the upcoming period are related to the fact that Iran will enter the world system as a legitimate player. There are three significant countries which see Iran’s desire to be a hegemonic country in the region as a threat: One is Saudi Arabia, two is Israel and the third is Turkey. Saudi Arabia and Israel have already been seeing eye-to-eye on almost every subject over the last six years and they have a great connection. Turkey is also very disturbed by the fact that Iran will increase its weight.
The framework of an Israel-Turkey peace is uncertain. Turkey is giving moderate messages but also does not disregard saying, “There is no deal yet.” What do you think? What kind of an agreement might have been reached?
I do not want to speak with current data without the text in front of us.
Will the ruling party get reactions from party alignments due to this peace? How do you evaluate the possible reactions?
The ethical and emotional parts of that are so complicated. There will be a strong reaction but let’s give it a rational look. Can Turkey help Palestinians while having relations with Israel or without relations with Israel? You are no longer a part of the subjects you think matter to you when you get angry and cut your relations. If you have a more important target, you maintain your relations despite many dissatisfying situations. Diplomacy is like that. The emotions between (President Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan and (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu are more multifaceted than between Obama and Netanyahu. However, this does not prevent them from meeting and talking about various subjects. They try to get somewhere through tolerance.
One Hamas authority will reportedly be deported from the country. In the meantime, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal receives top-level hosting in Turkey. What is the background on this?
The meaning of Mashaal’s invitation was to give a message that “we are not selling you out.” In this way, you are also saying to the public opinion “we are talking with Israel but we are also hosting Mashaal here.”
3) The Russian jet crisis
(Russian President Vladimir) Putin is angry and his anger is not cooling off. What will be the end result of this?
I was among the journalists present during the Prime Minister (Ahmet Davutoğlu’s) Brussels visit. He commented on Putin’s actions, saying, “Taking those [Putin’s actions as] serious and responding to them is an insult to seriousness.” Okay, good; the response to Putin should not be on that level. Turkey has unorthodoxly changed its tune in this crisis and acted patiently. However, Russia’s response following the downing of its jet will not be restricted to only banning vegetable and fruit imports and not sending tourists to Antalya.
What will Putin do? Which steps can he take?
What will Turkey’s attitude be if Russia gives a response that might be equivalent to the jet downing? I think a lot of work falls to diplomacy. A way to smooth over the situation should be found.
Is there such a way?
Perhaps some effective people and countries might be exerted. But it seems that Putin will not drop the subject without saying to his own public, “I have avenged this incident.” There is absolutely an opportunity but it is not easy.
4) Barzani’s PKK scolding
Barzani made a very harsh statement against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) recently. Will a clash erupt between Barzani’s forces and the PKK?
I believe that Barzani would not do this. Even those aligned with him would not want this because no one in the region welcomes the massacre of Kurds against Kurds. Whether we like it or not, the PKK has alignments in Barzani’s region. Therefore, Barzani cannot easily venture taking on the PKK and attempting something like war.
5) Syria’s future
There has been a U.N. resolution on Syria, but we cannot understand anything. Will there be a (political) transition with (Syrian President Bashar) al-Assad or without al-Assad?
There is a term in diplomacy called “constructive ambiguity.” We can define it as throwing the subjects that you know you cannot solve by verbal one-upmanship out of bounds.
Then it is normal that we cannot understand anything.
Of course it is. The Americans say, “A future without al-Assad will be good but we will look into it.” Russia does not agree with this yet.
Will there really be a final solution in Syria after the U.N. decision?
I think there are three dimensions in the Syria crisis. One is the local crisis. We do not know who controls how much of what. There is an estimated 700 organizations on the ground. Second is the war of regional hegemony with Iran, Saudi Arabia and even Turkey. There is a proxy war in the region. Third is the calculation of global powers, Russia and the U.S. The calculations of all countries are different.
Then the deal should be provided in all three dimensions.
It is not possible to provide a deal without an agreement in these three dimensions.
What does the U.N. resolution mean from the point of these three dimensions?
An agreement only in the third dimension, meaning an agreement at the level of global actors.
6) EU-Turkey relations
There appears to be a new closeness between the EU and Turkey. What is happening?
We are listening to the tunes of the beginning of refreshed love.
Where did this love come from?
Had the refugee crisis not emerged, this would not have happened. Europe, which is in panic over the refugee crisis, needs Turkey. The Turkish prime minister was asked on his way back from Brussels, “Were the incidents in the southeast, the scenes of a civil war and human rights abuses, on the agenda?” The PM said, “No, on the contrary they support us.” Europeans seem to forget the press freedom issue with the refugee crisis before all.
Is the EU-Turkey convergence not beneficial?
Of course it is. It might turn into an opportunity to rebuild relations again.
7) The Islamic alliance
Turkey joined the Islamic military coalition led by Saudi Arabia. What do you say about that?
Iran, Iraq and Syria are not among those countries. We thought it was Islamic? This is a Sunni alliance. What is Turkey doing there? Turkey was a country that could speak with both Sunnis and Shiites three years ago.
President Erdoğan had visited Iraq in 2011, prayed in the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf and then talked with (Ali) al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraqi Shi, in a two-hour meeting. He said, “We are supra-denominational. We are neither Shiites nor Sunnis. We are Muslims.” How come this came to that point? It’s a great tragedy.
But the U.S. supports the coalition?
I forget the number of things that the U.S. did wrong and I cannot count them.
Who is Soli Özel?
Soli Özel is the chief of foreign news at daily Habertürk and lecturer at Kadir Has University with an expertise in the economy, political science and international relations.