|Crafting a Regional Policy to Contain Erdoğan
BESA, Apr. 23, 2019
A new era has dawned in the northern Levant. The Republic of Turkey has left behind its Kemalist, secular foundations in pursuit of Islamist, authoritarian governance. The Justice & Development Party (AKP), headed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has alienated the US, Israel, and the EU and abandoned the country’s pro-Western and NATO credentials.The AKP has adopted a neo-Ottoman policy of imperialism, seeking to usurp the position of “leader of the Muslim World” from Saudi Arabia. In colonial language reminiscent of Mussolini’s fascist Italy, Erdoğan has threatened to conquer the Greek Isles, Cyprus, and the Levant. He has taken concrete steps toward advancing this vision, despite alienating European and Arab allies.Some analysts have called for maintaining ties with Turkey in the hope that the AKP government will fall and relations with a more moderate leader can resume. But this is wishful thinking. Despite poor showings in local elections and a recent poor economic performance, ultra-nationalist and neo-fascist organizations like the Grey Wolves have been emboldened since the AKP’s rise.
The AKP has also sought to Islamize still-secular North Cyprus, turning the conflict from an ethnonational one into a religious one. Ankara has hopes of changing the peace process in Cyprus from one of reunion with equal rights to a two-state solution. This would be the pretext for an eventual annexation of the island (or at least its northern portion).
Given Ankara’s increasing interference in the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean, it is necessary to build and strengthen a multilateral mechanism among the region’s most affected states and “statelets” to contain it. The US is already providing major support to both the Kurds in Syria and the burgeoning “Axis of Antiquity” of Greece, Israel, and the Republic of Cyprus. The Kurds and the eastern Mediterranean coalition have a common interest in challenging Erdoğan’s hegemonic ambitions and protecting their sovereignty. These actors – perhaps with guidance from Washington – must iron out a cohesive plan to make it happen.
Turkey’s decision to buy the S-400 missile defense system from Russia at the expense of Washington’s F-35s has angered the US to the point of threatening sanctions. Last summer, the US damaged Ankara’s economy with tariffs and threatened sanctions if it attacked the Kurds in Syria. The Syrian Kurds are floating the idea of diplomacy with Turkey if it stops occupying the enclave of Afrin – but without it, they say, there will be war.
Meanwhile, Athens has expressed interest in acquiring F-35 fighter jets. Greece’s military is inferior to that of Turkey, and F-35s would provide a valuable deterrent to prevent further violations of airspace. With that said, Greece would have to make the purchase at a relatively low price, given its economic situation. Washington should consider a Greek F-35 sale at a discount on the condition that they also are used to protect Cypriot airspace in the event of Turkish military provocation on the island.
Greece already has Patriot missiles. To further deter Turkey, the US should consider stationing THAAD missiles in Crete, where the US maintains a military base. It should also seriously consider pressing Britain to allow Patriot and THAAD missile defense systems to be placed at its Akrotiri and Dhekelia military bases in Cyprus. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
Turkey Is Hungry for War with Cyprus
Foreign Policy, May 21, 2019
When Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s finance minister and the son-in-law of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced on May 12 that his country would soon send a drill ship to exploit natural gas resources in an area widely considered to belong to Cyprus, it was tempting to write off the incident as just another harmless flare-up in the decades-long territorial disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean. Periodically stoking tensions with Greece and Cyprus has always been a part of Turkish foreign-policy strategy.
This time is far more dangerous, however, because there are signs Turkey might be ready to escalate its confrontation beyond mere rhetoric. Albayrak’s announcement came a day before Turkey held Sea Wolf, its largest annual naval exercise in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean. Then, on May 15, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reiterated the country’s intention to buy the S-400 missile system from Russia. And throughout this period, Turkish jets have been violating Greek airspace almost daily.
The S-400 purchase has been a source of tension on its own. The United States and NATO believe that the missile system, once plugged into Turkey’s radar network, will give Russian systems access to sensitive NATO data—potentially making it easier, for instance, for Moscow to detect the F-35s that Turkey has been looking to procure from the West. Turkey claims those concerns are overblown, but that hasn’t stopped Washington from threatening Ankara with removal from the F-35 purchasing program and further sanctions.
All this, again, could be seen simply as part of the generally problematic relationship between Turkey and the West following the events of the Gezi Park protests and the escalation of the war in Syria, when Erdogan began consolidating power at home almost six years ago. But recent local elections in Istanbul—in which Erdogan lost the city he considers his seat of power—have clearly spooked the once unshakeable strongman, causing him to overreach and force a rerun. This looks likely to backfire, with opposition parties withdrawing their candidates and throwing their support behind the Republican People’s Party’s Ekrem Imamoglu, who was the winner of the first round.
This comes amid an economy in decline, as reflected in the price of the Turkish lira, and grumbling about Erdogan inside his own party. The frosty reception the president got when he visited Turkey-aligned Northern Cyprus last year also didn’t help his standing at home.
These are developments that Erdogan was clearly not ready for. Turks may ultimately benefit from their autocratic president’s sudden weakening. But as far as international politics go, the effects are far more ambiguous. History suggests that leaders who are losing their grip on power have incentives to organize a show of strength and unite their base behind an imminent foreign threat. Erdogan has every reason to create hostilities with Greece —Turkey’s traditional adversary and Cyprus’s ally— to distract from his problems at home.
This wouldn’t come out of anywhere. Turkey has never allowed Cyprus to benefit from the natural gas reserves in its waters without some sort of confrontation. In that sense, Turkey’s strategy in the Aegean Sea has been consistent for many decades now: apply pressure, put forth demands, wait for a crisis, and then bring the other side to the table on your own terms. This is precisely what it’s trying to do in Cyprus right now. “What is developing before our eyes is a systematic strategy engineered by Turkey to bring into question the status quo in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean regions,” wrote Alexis Papachelas, one of Greece’s most senior and well-respected journalists, in his column on May 15. “All evidence points to a climax in tensions next autumn.” … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
Paradox of Russian Political Investments in Erdogan
Jerusalem Post, May 27, 2019
Elections create a miniature crisis for every political regime. Local elections in Turkey elections and the run-off election in Istanbul exposed a serious deficiency in nature of Erdogan’s rule and its legitimacy in large urban centers.
This has serious implications for Russian-Turkish relations, with the legitimacy of foreign policy decisions falling hostage to fluctuations of domestic politics. Arrangements with long-term strategic implications become hard to sustain. Few foreign players would wish to engage a ruler with uncertain future. This, however, doesn’t stop Russia from dealing with Erdogan.
For the past three years, Erdogan proved himself as an acceptable counterpart for Russian officials in many regional issues. The increasingly unstable position at home forces the Turkish leader to seek validation through its active foreign policy. Under increasing international isolation, Erdogan, who wants to deliver ostensibly successful deals, can rely on a few foreign partners – and Russia has appeared the most willing to cooperate.
This kind of cooperation heavily tilts bilateral relations in favor of Russia. The Turkish leader’s ambitions and anxieties can be successfully channeled in the right direction and ultimately converted into long-term commitments conducive to Russian strategic interests both in the adjacent regions and inside Turkey.
It is in this context that the nature of the S-400 deal is most revealed. While it can be argued that the arms contract is a purely commercial deal, as Russian officials have been asserting, the sale of Russian air defense systems to Turkey would not have been important for Russia if it didn’t serve Russian long-term interests.
There are two important things to bear in mind. First, Russian defense systems, designed to counter NATO’s fifth-generation F-35s, are supposed to stay in service within the Russian A2/D2 perimeter for the next 25 to 30 years. The radar components of the system are expected to contribute to the Russian countermeasures against attempts of the NATO alliance to build advanced offensive potential in Europe.
Second, disagreements between Ankara and Washington over the purchase of the Russian weapons exacerbated the deep-rooted conflict of worldviews between political elites in both nations. This is not only about how to treat Russia, what to do with Assad or how to deal with the Kurds in the Middle East.
The desire for a more independent foreign policy and more assertive posture in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean is shared by Turkish elites, ruling and opposition. The drive behind this exceeds the lifespan of Erdogan’s rule.
One can argue that the decision to sell the S-400s to Turkey is short-sighted. Why would Russia invest this much in a regime that is gradually losing its legitimacy, capacity, and resources to keep the agreement? Moreover, there is broad opposition to the Russian arms acquisition and rapprochement with Moscow among major opposition parties in Turkey. With a change of government in Turkey, if it happens democratically, the strategic effect of the S-400 deal on the Western security alliance can be mitigated considerably and technical secrets of the Russian arms could be compromised.
The Crimean example shows that Russia may have long-term plans to reinforce its influence in its surrounding alleged “zone of influence.” Russian leadership, however, is neither ready nor capable of directly challenging Western interests and the existing status quo in the nations under normal conditions of political processes. Moscow feels more confident in mobilizing its resources to take quick advantage of the emerging critical situation to dramatically tilt the balance of power in the area in its favor. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
ANALYSIS: Turkey’s Dark Past and Present Exposed
Israel Today, May 20, 2019
At the end of April during the annual commemoration of the Turkish destruction of the Armenian Christian community Israeli lawmakers again called for official recognition of the genocide by three successive Turkish governments at the beginning of the last century.
Yair Lapid, the co-leader of Israel’s second largest political party Blue and White, said: “the time has come for Israel to officially recognize the genocide of the Armenian people and stop giving in to Turkish pressure.”
“We have a moral and historic responsibility to remember the genocide and to stand behind ‘never again. This is true for every nation,” Lapid later tweeted.
Until now Israel has declined to officially recognize the Armenian genocide in order not antagonize the Turkish government despite a vote advocating official recognition by the Israeli government which was held by the Knesset Education Committee in August 2016.
Turkey’s current leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan vehemently denies the Armenian claim about the genocide which included mass killings and forced deportations of roughly two million Christians by Muslim Turks and other Muslims during a period of thirty years (1894-1924).
The Turkish autocratic leader routinely blasts leaders of foreign governments who dare to stand up for the truth about Turkey’s dark past and at the end of April harshly criticized French President Emmanuel Macron for recognizing the Armenian genocide.
In 2001, France joined 30 other governments in recognizing the Turkish responsibility for the genocide and other atrocities against Christians and Macron recently decided to install a “national day of commemoration of the Armenian genocide.”
Erdogan told a crowd of supporters that Macron first should be “honest in politics” and claimed France had committed “massacres” during the colonial era. “Delivering a message to 700,000 Armenians who live in France will not save you, Monsieur Macron,” the Turkish hot-headed leader warned.
The dispute about this part of Turkey’s dark past has been going on for decades but now two Israeli historians basing themselves on scientific research delivered the irrefutable evidence Turkey has been guilty of staging a bloody campaign which lasted thirty years and caused the near extinction of the Christian community in the country.
Professor Benny Morris and his colleague Professor Dror Ze’evi of the Ben Gurion University in the Negev Desert just published their new book ‘The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894-1924’
In the book Morris and Ze’evi delivered evidence that the actual genocide which took place in 1915 and 1916 was part “of a larger span of elimination that lasted some 30 years.” The two scientists “sifted through the Turkish, U.S., British and French archives, as well as some Greek materials and the papers of the German and Austro-Hungarian foreign ministries”and came to the conclusion that Armenian Christians spoke the truth when they claimed that “ the Turks murdered about half of their forebears and expelled the rest.”
Morris and Ze’evi say that the murderous campaign against the Christians was fueled by “religious animus” and that “Muslims, including Kurds, Circassians, Chechens and Arabs—murdered about two million Christians in bouts of slaughter immediately before, during and after World War I.” … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]