Publication Date : Sunday 29 June 2014 16:33
While the Middle East is passing through critical times due to the conflict in Iraq, Turkey certainly needs to find partners in the region to cooperate with -- although it has harmed the very ground for such cooperation with some regional actors due to its foreign policy, say experts.
Turkey's troubled relations with its regional countries, ranging from Israel to Syria, from Iraq to Egypt, from the Gulf countries to Iran, have been criticized for a long time; however, Turkish foreign policy has particularly come under the spotlight after the hostage crisis in Iraq.
In a serious blow to Turkish foreign policy, al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants kidnapped all the Turkish diplomats in the consulate general in Mosul, including Consul General Öztürk Yılmaz, and several members of Turkey's Special Forces. According to reports, ISIL broke into the consulate after threatening the diplomats inside with a bomb attack, but the group did not abduct the Iraqi staff in the consulate.
While efforts to rescue the Turkish citizens are ongoing, the Foreign Ministry and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) are being harshly criticized for turning a blind eye to the crisis on Turkey's doorstep. The Turkish leadership is criticized for weak intelligence, a shortsighted foreign policy vision and for realizing the radical threat too late.
Experts believe that the Iraqi crisis may push Turkey to offer an olive branch to the regional countries with whom it is at odds with.
“There is a serious crisis of confidence in the region. The risks that started to emerge with the Iraqi crisis are pushing regional countries, particularly Turkey, to search for allies to cooperate with,” Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, an academic at Ankara's Gazi University and the head of the Center for International Strategic and Security Studies (USGAM), said in remarks to Sunday's Zaman.
Today, Turkey is struggling to find a reliable partner in the region to cooperate with as its immediate neighbor Iraq risks being dragged into a sectarian war and another immediate neighbor, Syria, is being turned into a failed state.
Turkey's foreign policy choices in recent years have led it to become the odd man out in the region as it has preferred to pursue a policy of “burning bridges” rather than “agreeing to disagree” on disputed issues with regional countries.
Starting with Egypt, Ankara is at odds with Cairo since the overthrow of Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, last July.
This week, the Turkish government accused Egypt of deliberately destabilizing Libya, where hundreds of Turkish citizens are being evacuated after a threat from retired Gen. Khalifa Haftar, a renegade general fighting insurgents in the east of the country.
Turkey has been one of the harshest critics of the Egyptian coup. The Turkish government's strident rhetoric regarding the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) leader has not only harmed his relations with Egypt but also with other Arab nations, particularly the Gulf states.
But the Gulf countries are not only concerned about the Turkish government's close ties with the MB in Egypt. They are also watching relations with Hamas, an offshoot of the MB.
Turkey has lost a strong ally like Egypt in the region at a time when Turkey is already under stress due to the ongoing war in Syria and has cold relations with both Iraq and Iran. Besides this, Turkey losing the Gulf states as an ally due to its Egypt policy was another backlash for Turkey.
Although Qatar emerges as the most reliable partner to Turkey in its support for the MB, the two countries do not enjoy very close relations as in the era of former Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who unexpectedly abdicated last year in favor of his son, Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim, a situation that has placed a big question mark over the future of the alliance. Turkey and Qatar, so far, have also adopted a similar stance regarding the Syrian conflict in the diplomatic sphere.
Needless to say, Turkey's ties with Syria have already reached a point that seems irreparable. The main problem in Turkey's Syria policy, according to analysts, is putting a plan to oust President Bashar al-Assad's regime at the top of the country's foreign policy priorities.
Kurds emerge as only partner in region
In Iraq, Turkish and Iraqi leaders have engaged in tit-for-tat accusations in recent years, and Turkey's relationship with Iraq has suffered since Ankara has been trying to transport oil to Turkey by working directly with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), bypassing the government in Baghdad. The government in Baghdad is against the deal, claiming that piping oil from the KRG to Turkey is a violation of their constitution and that only the central government has the authority to manage Iraq's energy resources.
As Iraq risks being dragged into a sectarian war, Kurds emerge as the most reliable partner for Turkey. The Turkish government enjoys close relations with the KRG with several energy deals inked by both sides. A growing country, Turkey desperately needs energy, and the KRG appears to be one of the best options for Turkey's energy needs.
Iraqi Kurds' close economic relations with Ankara would have been unthinkable a few years ago, when Ankara enjoyed strong ties with Iraq's central government in Baghdad and was deep in a decades-long fight with Kurdish terrorists on its own soil.
Earlier this year the KRG started exporting oil through a newly built pipeline that also runs to Turkey's Mediterranean export hub of Ceyhan.
Turkey's relationship with the US has also deteriorated following Washington's criticism of Ankara over recent developments in Turkey, such as the restructuring of the judicial system to give more power to the executive branch, which created concerns about the separation of powers and the government's tight control over the media.
Ankara-Washington ties became so strained that for the first time in the history of Turkish-American relations, the White House flatly denied a comment made by the Turkish prime minister. In an unusual statement, the White House accused Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of misrepresenting the content of his Feb. 19 conversation with President Barack Obama regarding the extradition of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania.
As for Israel, with whom Turkey once enjoyed solid ties at all levels, Ankara's relations deteriorated in May 2010 and have remained strained since Israeli naval commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara, a humanitarian aid ship attempting to breach Israel's blockade of Gaza, killing eight Turkish civilians and one Turkish-American.