ERDOGAN PURSUES NEO-OTTOMAN IDEOLOGY; SAUDI ROLE IN YEMEN WAR CHALLENGED BY U.S.

Erdoğan: Ideological But Not Suicidal: Burak Bekdil, BESA, Dec. 7, 2018— Is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a devout ideologue or a pragmatist?

Erdogan is Deepening his Involvement in Sudan: Zvi Mazel, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 9, 2018 — Pursuing its strategic goals in Sudan, Turkey is turning to the economy.

US Senate Resolution on Saudi Arabia Could Change Middle East Dynamics: Dr. James M. Dorsey, BESA, Dec. 9, 2018— A six-page draft US Senate resolution does more than portray Saudi policy as detrimental to US interests, which is striking in and of itself.

Standing With Saudi Arabia: Tony Badran, Tablet, Dec. 2, 2018— This week the Senate will vote on and likely pass a resolution of disapproval calling for the United States to cease activities related to the Yemen war.

On Topic Links 

Turkey Sides with Hamas on U.N. Resolution Condemning Rocket Attacks: John Rossomando, IPT News, Dec 5, 2018

Anti-Semitism: The Fast Track in Turkey to a Government Career?: Uzay Bulut, Gatestone Institute, Dec. 4, 2018

Senate to Vote on Withdrawing U.S. Support to Saudis in Yemen War: Natalie Andrews, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 9, 2018

World Chess Contest Moved from Saudi Arabia After Two Israelis Complain of Ban: Stuart Winer, Times of Israel, Dec. 3, 2018

 

ERDOĞAN: IDEOLOGICAL BUT NOT SUICIDAL

Burak Bekdil                                

BESA, Dec. 7, 2018

Is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a devout ideologue or a pragmatist? The answer is both. Perhaps a more relevant question is: When is he a devout ideologue and when a pragmatist? In late 2010, at the peak of the diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Israel after the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident, a senior Israeli diplomat asked this author: “Is there a way to push Erdoğan from blind (anti-Zionist) ideology to rationalism so that we can normalize our relations?” My answer was, “Costs… If a crisis costs him economically, then politically, he will switch from ideology to reason.” A comment on that conclusion made by a friend of the diplomat explains why Ankara and Jerusalem have had erratic but deeply hostile relations since 2009: “Israel is a powerful country but not big enough to make Turkey pay a price for its antagonism.” After a theoretical normalization of diplomatic ties in December 2016, Turkey and Israel once again downgraded their diplomatic missions in May 2018.

In 2009, then-PM Erdoğan (or his Islamist/ideologue self) boldly challenged Beijing when more than 100 Muslim Uighurs were killed in clashes with China’s security forces. This was at a time when Turkey’s economy was performing spectacularly and posting high growth rates year after year. Championing his “leader of the umma” persona, Erdoğan called the deaths of Uighur Muslims “a genocide.”

Today, with Turkey’s economy badly ailing over record-high inflation and interest rates and the national currency having lost a third of its value against major western currencies since the beginning of the year, a much different Erdoğan is on display: Not a word against Beijing from the “leader of the umma” in the face of a crackdown in which China has forcibly put hundreds of thousands of devout ethnic Uighurs in “rehabilitation camps.” Erdoğan has also rejected relocating Uighur militants fighting in northern Syria into camps on Turkish soil. Why Erdoğan’s reasonable self all of a sudden instead of his ideological self, which champions the Uighur cause? Simple: He needs loans, investment, and more trade with China.

In September and October 2015, Turkey started to complain of airspace violations by Russian military aircraft along its border with Syria. It announced that it had changed the rules of engagement with foreign aircraft violating Turkish airspace: Such (Russian) aircraft would be shot down. In November of that year, the Turkish military did indeed shoot down a Russian Su-24, claiming it had violated Turkish airspace. Then-PM Ahmet Davutoğlu announced that the same rules of engagement would be applied if there were further violations. Erdoğan boldly demanded of the Russians, “What business do you have in Syria? You don’t even have a border with Syria.”

An angry Vladimir Putin immediately installed Russian air defense systems in northern Syria in a not-so-subtle move to threaten Turkish military aircraft flying over Syrian skies. The Turkish military had to stop flights in Syrian airspace. Putin also announced scores of punishing economic sanctions on Turkey and Turkish companies doing multi-billion dollar businesses in Russia. The sanctions included bans on Turkish exports and a travel ban that quickly hurt Turkey’s tourist industry. More threateningly, Putin said the Russian sanctions could include “military retaliation,” reminding the Turks of their less-than-glorious military past with pre-Soviet Russia.

It took a mere six months for Erdoğan to move from demanding an apology from Moscow to personally apologizing to Putin. In June 2016, Turkey and Russia “normalized” their frozen diplomatic ties. Since then, Ankara has committed to acquiring the Russian-made S-400 air and anti-missile defense system despite warnings from its NATO allies, and will become the first NATO member state to deploy that system on its soil. Erdoğan has said Turkey would also consider buying the S-500 system now under development. Non-military trade normalized too, and flocks of Russian tourists have arrived at Turkey’s Mediterranean resorts.

More importantly, Turkey has radically moved from “what business do you have in Syria” to allying with Russia in Syria. The two countries, along with Iran, are partners in the Astana process. Moscow orchestrates every strategic move in northern Syria, and Ankara simply complies with its dictates.

Enter America. In the first half of 2018, Ankara and Washington went through their worst diplomatic crisis in decades over several major disputes. Turkey claimed that America was harboring its most wanted terrorist, Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric in self-exile in Pennsylvania accused of being the mastermind behind a failed coup against Erdoğan in July 2016. Also, a senior Turkish government banker was in a US prison, with his bank a potential target of billions of dollars in US sanctions for violating the Iran sanctions. In addition, Ankara accused Washington of equipping what it calls “Kurdish terrorists” east of the Euphrates in northern Syria. America views them as allies in its fight against ISIS.

The US responded to Ankara’s purchase of the S-400 system by threatening to suspend delivery of the next generation F-35 fighter to Turkey. Washington also sanctioned two Turkish ministers and doubled its tariffs on imports of Turkish steel and aluminum. Ankara retaliated by sanctioning two US secretaries. At the heart of the matter was an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, held in a Turkish prison on charges of espionage and terrorism. “As long as I am in power,” Erdoğan once roared, “that spy (Brunson) will never be set free.”

Then came the reversal. The Turkish lira lost more than 40% of its value in eight months. In what traders called the Brunson effect, the markets went into a meltdown. Turkish bond yields rose to record highs and recession loomed, with huge conglomerates knocking on banks’ doors demanding debt restructuring. Several large-scale companies announced bankruptcy. In October, “the spy who would never be set free” was released, flew to America, and posed for the cameras with President Trump. Markets sighed with relief, and the lira is now trading at its highest point since August. On Nov. 2, Ankara and Washington bilaterally dropped sanctions against each other’s ministers.

Erdoğan can be offensive and confrontational, in keeping with his neo-Ottoman ideology. But he is not suicidal. He knows that an economic crisis can quickly turn into a political crisis that could cost him his closely guarded power, and he will change his tune accordingly.

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ERDOGAN IS DEEPENING HIS INVOLVEMENT IN SUDAN                                        

Zvi Mazel                                                    

Jerusalem Post, Dec. 9, 2018

Pursuing its strategic goals in Sudan, Turkey is turning to the economy. On November 29, Turkish Agriculture and Forests Minister Bekir Pakdemirli told Sudanese daily Al Shuruk that his country and Sudan had established a joint agricultural and livestock company; its offices, he said, had opened in Khartoum a few days earlier.

TIGEM, the general directorate of agricultural enterprises of Turkey, holds 80% of its shares and Sudan 20%. According to the minister, as a pilot project the company will lease 12,500 hectares to Turkish companies in the private sector out of the 780,000 hectares Sudan agreed to lease to Turkey for a period of 99 years when president Erdogan visited the country in 2017. These vast tracts of land are spread across five districts. The purpose of the pilot project is to study culture and export feasibility. According to the minister, it is to help develop Sudanese agriculture while providing Turkey with agricultural produce that cannot be grown locally because of the climate. That produce will not be taxed. The company was established following the Turkish-Sudanese agricultural agreement signed in 2014, which aimed at developing Sudanese agricultural potential in order to produce foodstuffs.

This public and important development demonstrates the common and long-range determination of both countries to consolidate their relationship. During Erdogan’s December 2017 visit, Sudan had agreed to lease the Suakin Island to Turkey for an indeterminate period. Turkey is to build a port, develop agriculture and restore the citadel, which had been for centuries the seat of the Ottoman Governor. The island is situated in the Red Sea opposite the Saudi port of Jedda.

President Erdogan is using Sudan to establish a foothold on the Red Sea to further is grand design of making Turkey a regional power and perhaps giving it back the glory of the Ottoman Empire, a policy he started implementing as soon as he was in power. He first came to Khartoum in 2006, when he was head of government and relations between the two countries kept getting warmer. Ankara provided much-needed economic relief when the United Stated imposed sanctions on Khartoum and in the past decade Turkish companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Sudan.

But it was during his December 2017 visit that the Turkish president set the seal on the special relationship between the two countries. Arriving with an impressive delegation of ministers and industrialists, he signed no fewer than 12 economic cooperation agreements for a total of $650 million. A high committee for strategic consultations was established. Another agreement dealt with security cooperation, but no details were published; what is known is that the commanders in chief of Turkey, Sudan and that of Qatar (who “happened” to come to Khartoum during the visit) met for unspecified meetings. A few days later the ministers of defense of those three countries arrived in Khartoum; they joined president Omar el Bashar for the inauguration of a textile factory that will manufacture uniforms for their armies as well as for neighboring African countries.

In March 2018, the Sudanese finance minister signed with Soma, a leading Turkish construction firm, a contract for the establishment of Khartoum’s new airport at a cost of $1.5 billion. In June of the same year, the joint Turkish-Sudanese businessmen committee met in Ankara with the participation of the finance and economic ministers of both countries, who signed a reciprocal agreement to promote trade with the ambitious goal of reaching exchanges of $2b. During the two preceding years, trade volume was barely $500m. a year, with Turkish exports making up 90% of the total.

There are important international aspects to their cooperation as well. Because of its closer ties to Turkey, Khartoum reduced significantly its participation in the Saudi-led Arab coalition against the Houthis in Yemen. At the same time, it developed its ties with Qatar, whose investments in Sudan reached $3.5b. in 2017.  But Turkey sees beyond Sudan. It set up a military base in Somalia. Inaugurated in October 2017, it is intended “to train the Somalian army.” The year before it had set up a similar base in Qatar and later dispatched reinforcements to bolster the small kingdom engaged in a confrontation with Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, fearing an invasion by the latter.

What the three countries involved in the Turkish alliance – Sudan, Somalia and Qatar – have in common is that they are ruled by Islamic parties close to the Muslim Brotherhood. Turkey, itself a strong supporter of the Brotherhood, took advantage of that fact to enhance its the strategic importance in the Red Sea area. It has now a political basis through its allies and a military presence through its outposts in Somalia and the Sudani port city of Suakin and could therefore threaten freedom of navigation in the Red Sea. As things stand today, it has no reason to do so, but it has demonstrated that it should be taken into consideration even far from its own borders.

This is a state of affairs that Egypt and Saudi Arabia, fighting the Muslim Brotherhood, are unhappy with, but cannot tackle at this point because they are embroiled in other conflicts. Saudi Arabia is focused on the threat of Iran and on the long-drawn Yemen war against the Houthis; Egypt has not yet quelled the Sinai insurgency and is trying to implement much-needed economic reforms. They are not ready for a confrontation with Turkey. Nevertheless, Cairo fears a deterioration of its own relations with Sudan, since it needs the help of that country in its efforts to preserve its share of the Nile waters, threatened both by claims of other African countries and by the massive “Renaissance” dam being built by Ethiopia on one of the tributaries of the Blue Nile. Though Riyadh and Cairo are so far behaving with circumspection, there is a very real potential for a regional flare-up that would speedily expand to the whole Middle East.

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US SENATE RESOLUTION ON SAUDI ARABIA

COULD CHANGE MIDDLE EAST DYNAMICS

Dr. James M. Dorsey                                 

BESA, Dec. 9, 2018

A six-page draft US Senate resolution does more than portray Saudi policy as detrimental to US interests, which is striking in and of itself. It also identifies Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman as “complicit” in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, holds him accountable for the devastating war in Yemen that has sparked one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, and blames him for the failure to end the 17-month-old Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar as well as the jailing and torture of Saudi dissidents and activists.

The resolution confronts not only Prince Muhammad’s policies but also, by implication, those of his closest ally, UAE Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed. The UAE was the first country that Saudi leader visited after the Khashoggi killing. By in effect challenging the position of king-in-waiting Prince Muhammad, the resolution raises the question whether some of his closest allies, including the UAE crown prince, will in future want to be identified that closely with him.

Moreover, by demanding the release of activist Raif bin Muhammad Badawi (better known as Raif Badawi) and women’s rights activists, the resolution further the challenges fundamentals of Prince Muhammad’s iron-fisted repression of his critics, the extent of his proposed social reforms as part of his drive to diversify and streamline the Saudi economy, and the kingdom’s human rights record.

Badawi, a 34-year-old blogger whose website is entitled Free Saudi Liberals, was barred from travel and had his assets frozen in 2009, was arrested in 2012, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam. His sister, Samar Badawi, a women’s rights activist, was detained earlier this year. His wife and children have been granted asylum and citizenship in Canada. A diplomatic row that stunned many erupted in August when Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian ambassador after the foreign ministry in Ottawa tweeted a demand that Ms. Badawi and other activists be released.

Prince Muhammad and Saudi Arabia, even prior to introduction of the Senate resolution, are discovering that the Khashoggi killing weakened the kingdom internationally and made it more vulnerable to pressure. Talks in Sweden between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and Houthi rebels to end the war are the most immediate consequence of the kingdom’s changing position. Another is the Senate resolution, which is unprecedented in the scope and harshness of its criticism of a long-standing ally. While the resolution is likely to spark initial anger among some of Prince’s Muhammad’s allies, it could, if adopted and/or implemented, persuade some – like UAE Crown Prince Muhammad – to rethink their fundamental strategies.

The relationship between the two Muhammads constituted a cornerstone of the UAE leader’s strategy to achieve his political, foreign policy, and defense goals. These include projecting the Emirates as a guiding light of cutting-edge Arab and Muslim modernity; ensuring that the Middle East fits the crown prince’s autocratic, anti-Islamist mold; and enabling the UAE, described by US defense secretary Jim Mattis as “Little Sparta,” to punch above its weight politically, diplomatically, and militarily. To compensate for the Emirates’ small size, Prince Muhammad opted to pursue his goals in part by working through the Saudi royal court. In leaked emails, UAE ambassador to Washington Yousef al-Otaiba, a close associate of Prince Muhammad, said of the Saudi crown prince that “I don’t think we’ll ever see a more pragmatic leader in that country.”…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

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STANDING WITH SAUDI ARABIA

Tony Badran                                            

Tablet, Dec. 2, 2018

This week the Senate will vote on and likely pass a resolution of disapproval calling for the United States to cease activities related to the Yemen war. The resolution is essentially a call to cut off Saudi Arabia, which, in turn, would signal that the United States does not care if Iran, the other party in the conflict, were to emerge on top in Yemen—an outcome that carries direct consequences for the global economy. Some senators who supported moving the resolution forward have cited the killing of Saudi national Jamal Khashoggi, which suggests, as one senator who opposes the resolution put it, that the Yemen issue is being tied to the broader issue of the relationship with Saudi Arabia. All of this is a display of strategic recklessness. In contrast, President Donald Trump’s statement two weeks ago titled “Standing with Saudi Arabia” was an example of strategic clarity. It bears revisiting for a closer read.

The president’s statement was followed by a torrent of criticism and outrage. What struck the sourest note for the president’s critics was his injection of colloquial language into a formal statement on foreign policy. For critics of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, the style of Trump’s statement amplified the repulsive crudeness of its substance. It offended their sense not just of what American foreign policy ought to be, but also about how it ought to be presented to the public.

Unsurprisingly, the criticism of D.C. foreign policy experts misses the point entirely. What they found crude and distasteful is precisely what made the president’s statement so powerful. The furious objections to both the content and the style of Trump’s statement point up the ways in which the foreign policy establishment has often used high-flown language about morality and ethics to cloak a series of failures in logical reasoning about the American interest, to say nothing of the negative impact of their preferences on the far-away places where they’re applied.

The opening two lines—“America First!”; “The world is a very dangerous place!”—establish the document as indubitably the president’s own. This stamp of Trumpness is critical to establish the statement’s credibility with its intended audiences, which may or may not include America’s Trump-hating foreign policy elite. While the president may enjoy sticking his thumb in his enemies’ eye, his key audiences here are Americans who share his America-centered approach to foreign policy, who can be found on both the right and the left these days, as well as foreign leaders, who must calculate whether they can rely on the United States as an ally and what being America’s enemy might cost. To both groups, Trump’s opening language makes a clear point: What follows are the words and beliefs of the American president himself.

President Trump is selling his foreign policy directly to the American people, rather than talking over their heads. This is, to be sure, a different way of playing the foreign policy game, one that Harry Truman might recognize but more recent presidents, of both parties, might not. There is no hidden pitch, masked with supposedly sophisticated lingo or flowery rhetoric that can then be spun by an echo chamber of political and media operatives, who will use their highly credentialed expertise to assure Americans that the money we send to Iran actually belongs to Iran, so we aren’t actually sending them money, or that the Iranians have no intention of building nuclear weapons, which is why making a deal with them right now on Iran’s own terms is a matter of urgent national importance. Or, assuring Americans and the world that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction and is planning to use them, which is why America needs to invade Iraq, where it will then use its occupation forces to attempt to turn the country into a democratic model for the entire Middle East…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

 

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On Topic Links

Turkey Sides with Hamas on U.N. Resolution Condemning Rocket Attacks: John Rossomando, IPT News, Dec 5, 2018—NATO ally Turkey plans to oppose an American-sponsored draft resolution at the United Nations condemning Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian terror factions. A vote on the resolution is scheduled for Thursday.

Anti-Semitism: The Fast Track in Turkey to a Government Career?: Uzay Bulut, Gatestone Institute, Dec. 4, 2018—As the Islamist government of Turkey grows increasingly authoritarian, religious minorities in the country seem to be the most targeted and affected group. The concerns of Turkey’s Jewish community were addressed recently by Mois Gabay, a columnist for the country’s Jewish weekly, Şalom, in an article entitled, “What Kind of Turkey Are We Living In?”

Senate to Vote on Withdrawing U.S. Support to Saudis in Yemen War: Natalie Andrews, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 9, 2018—The U.S. Senate this week is set to vote on a resolution to withdraw U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition at war in Yemen, an effort to punish Riyadh for the killing of a Saudi Arabian journalist.

World Chess Contest Moved from Saudi Arabia After Two Israelis Complain of Ban: Stuart Winer, Times of Israel, Dec. 3, 2018—The governing body for international chess confirmed Monday that an upcoming tournament that was to be held for the second year in Saudi Arabia has been relocated to Russia because of the kingdom’s policies, which exclude some eligible players.