23/10/2009

Turkish strategic U-turn

In recent weeks, two events demonstrated a re-evaluation by Turkey of the strategic partnership concluded with Israel in 1996. Two weeks ago, Turkey decided to delay international air manoeuvres « Anatolian Eagle » originally taking place from October 12 to 23 over its territory, and that in order to review the list of participants and more than probably to exclude the Jewish state from it (see the article « Ankara exchange partners » on Radio France International). While tensions were already high between the two countries, the release of the soap-opera Ayrilik featuring an inhumane Israeli army (see article  » La discorde israélo-turque en série télé » on RFI), finally put an end to the special relationship that usually prevails between the two countries. A swift Israeli reaction was marked by the decision of many companies to boycott Turkish products (see article « Appels au boycott du café et des sites touristiques turcs » on RFI).

The disagreement of the Turkish public opinion considering the strategic alliance with Israel has often been suggested as the explanation of the diplomatic hiccups between the two countries. And this is not the first time the Turkish-Israeli relations are experiencing tensions because of the actions of the Israeli army. Thus in 2004, when Ariel Sharon led a policy of targeted assassinations of Palestinian leaders, the Turkish Prime Minister publicly expressed strong criticism against him. Again, as the Davos summit took place shortly after the Gaza events, Erdogan had to react.

But this reaction should be analyzed from a broader perspective, and the decision to quick out the IDF from the manoeuvre « Anatolian Eagle » merely confirm. This is indeed simply a freeze of the alliance to please the Turkish public opinion, but the beginning of a genuine strategic U-turn, which could not be carried out without the agreement with the Turkish military intelligentsia (see article on Courier International, « Rien ne va plus« ).

After numerous attempts to get closer to the European Union, without success, Turkey now seems to position itself as a regional leader in the Middle East: first by playing a mediating role between regional actors, but also by reinitiating contacts with its neighbours, Armenia on one hand, but also and especially with its Muslim neighbours. On the one hand, questioning the strategic partnership with Israel stems from a desire for consistency with the positions of Syria and Iran. On the other hand, Turkey shows a certain independence from the will of the major Western powers. The Anatolian power thus operates a major strategic shift that will ultimately make it a key player in the Middle East.

Nathalie Janne d’Othée