Turkey has announced to restore its diplomatic relations with Israel almost after six years gap. Turkish President Erdogan has also tendered an apology to Russia for the downing of a Russian SU-24 plane in last November, after which Russian President Putin had taken strong steps with respect to Turkey. Sanctions were put on Turkey causing a lot of harm to it.
Turkey has also decided to reemphasize for its membership of EU and wants referendum in the country on the issue. Discussions are likely to start between Turkey and EU since 30th June. Relations with GCC and Saudi Arabia and UAE are also being nurtured. Turkey-GCC relations were on decline since a long time.
These developments are very strange and sudden. These need to be understood in terms of rapidly changing power configuration in the region. Turkey has realized that Russia has succeed in breaking the backbone of IS, its evidence is seen in the battle of Fallujah where IS has lost a big chunk of its fighters and Iraq’s PM Haidar al-Abadi has announced its recapturing. Russia has withdrawn from the region only with respect to air attacks but it has strengthened itself in the region; Syrian President Bashar Al Assad has been strengthened in the mean time and the US-Turkish plan for his removal has been weakened. The Russian policy in the region has paid dividends to Putin. These may move forward and affect the Erdogan’s status and Turkish political structure in the region. The apology is therefore acceptance of the Putin’s win, Assad’s strengthened position.
Along with it Turkey has its own brand of religious conservatism and goals; which differs from Saudi Arabia, but both seem to be working on accepted agenda but recent changes in the region have reduced the Turkish capability; these cumulative factors have pressed it to reformulate its foreign policy.
Turkey has decided to restore the diplomatic relations with Israel after six years. Turkey knows that Russia has penetrated in the region. Hence alignment with like minded countries should be initiated. Israel and Turkey both have problems with Assad in Syria; both have common interests in the region. US also seems to have played a role in impressing the Turkey that better relations need to be established with Israel in the wake of increasing Russian influence in the region. Israel is also aware that there is now fluid condition in the region and the opponent groups including Hamas, Hezbollah are to be contained; hence the Turkish offer will not be rejected by Israel.
Turkey has also decided to renegotiate with EU on its entry in the weak EU after the exit of UK. There is a large group in EU and in UK also which did not want Turkey to be a part of EU for which it has been trying since last decade but without any substantial success. UK was never willing that Turkey be a part of EU, Tory party in England had always believed that its membership will bring influx of Turkish Muslim people in the region and also inside UK; PM David Cameron had stated sarcastically in May 2016 that by year 3000 Turkey will be able to gain the membership. The Brexit went against the common expectation because several factors played their role in this decision but one factor was related to the issue of membership of Turkey in EU; now with the exit of Cameroon and UK from the EU, Turkey has now decided to reengage with the EU. At present Turkey is the main transit point of the Syrian refugees going to Europe and houses the most immigrants fleeing from the adjoining area.
The role of the Turkey has become quite important for EU to survive; EU desires that refugee’s burden be borne by Turkey, in return Turkey may get the membership of the European Union. The problem in the region which started from Arab spring got accentuated when refugee problem emerged is a serious way, affecting directly the Turkey and later on took its toll on EU. The UK’s exit is a big shock to the philosophy of European integration and its tremor will cause more withdrawal, Netherland, and ‘the happiest country in the world’ Denmark may follow the suit. Turkish efforts towards the EU will bring more destabilization in the Union. As the issue of integration and coexistence of Christian and Muslim value system have come into fore in Europe. Turkish efforts will accentuate this issue further but at present both needs each other.
Turkey has also decided to come closer to GCC since last few months; main reason is that Turkey and Saudi Arabia have similar policy approach towards Syria. Turkey also knows that its domestic conditions are not positive. US has supported the Kurds in the region, its major worry is therefore to maintain its advanced status in the region and without the support of Israel, Saudi Arabia and EU, it can’t do so. Iran is another cause of worry. For Saudi Arabia the whole balance of power in the region is now altered after lifting of sanction against Iran by world community. Saudi Arabia is not happy with USA on this issue; the regime in the country has already been weakened and is much dependent upon USA. The fundamentalist culture in which Saudi Arabia’s regime has contributed; with violation of human rights are the underlying factors which will lead to the downfall of the regime. These realistic appreciations by Saudi Arabia have impressed it to give a space to Turkey.
The convergence of interests is taking place in the region. The blocks are under formation. Turkey’s recent efforts are expression of it but Turkey’s efforts for a new foreign policy will not bring any positive successes as long as the region is not saved from the fundamentalist ideas which are state sponsored effects and the policies of big powers which dictate the terms in the region.
Dr. Vivek Kumar Srivastava is Vice Chairman CSSP, Consultant CRIEPS, e email@example.com