The year 2018 is not expected to be an easy year for developments in the Middle East, since after the Islamic State (ISIS) defeat, things are rampant with Ankara trying to find answers to many issues concerning Turkey’s south-eastern borders.
A key issue that Turkey wants to see solved is the territorial integrity of Syria, a subject on which they agree with Russia and Iran as well as with the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Both Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim have said that Ankara considers the Kurds of northern Syria (PYD, YPG) as “terrorists” claiming (Ankara) that they are a branch of the PKK. That is why Erdogan has accused the U.S. of supplying the terrorists with 3,000 trucks full of weapons. Arguably, Washington does not share this view since they regard the Kurds as a key factor in the victory over the Islamic State in Syria. Ankara does not want an independent Kurdish state in northern Syria, nor does an autonomous Kurdish region, as they consider them a threatening factor to Turkey’s unity. However, a recent statement that caused quite a stir was that by Bashar al-Assad who said that “the Syrian Kurds who have weapons and are equipped with weapons by the United States are traitors”.
This statement shows that Ankara and Damascus seem to converge at some positions on the future of Syria, and this convergence happens through Russia, which plays a key role in the region.
In the past, the Turkish foreign policy aimed at overthrowing the “dictator and butcher” -as the President of Turkey described him- called Assad. Nowadays, there are no such statements heard in Ankara; instead, it is being said that “the future of Syria can be defined through a political solution”. In Turkey, experienced political analysts report that Damascus and Syria have another common enemy, which is Israel, and they do not exclude meetings at the level of high-ranking officials in Turkey and Syria. The reconstruction of the Syrian infrastructure is something that interest many Turkish construction companies.
In Turkey, no one doubts that the country’s foreign policy on the Middle East and, especially on Syria and the Kurdish region, is heavily influenced by relations between Vladimir Putin with Recep Tayip Erdogan. The two leaders have met 8 times only in 2017! In 2015, Turkish Air Force aircrafts had taken down a Russian military plane near Syria. The two countries’ relations had reached the nadir. Following the sanctions imposed by Moscow, Erdogan indirectly apologised to Putin and since then the two sides behave like allies. It is no coincidence that Turkey stopped the rhetoric of Assad’s overthrow supported by Moscow. At the same time, Ankara announced it would buy Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles and the construction of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant in Akkuyu by Russian ROSATOM is expected to begin soon. In the energy sector, the Turkısh Stream underground gas pipeline connecting Russia and Turkey is also being constructed, while the construction of the other Blue Stream pipeline has already been completed.
A story of a fiasco named “Kurdish State”
“You can organise many referenda in Europe, but in the Middle East these things cannot be done unless you ask the big countries in the region”, an experienced Turkish diplomat told me once he heard what Masud Barzani, the President of the Kurds of Northern Iraq had said about “the referendum on the independence of (Iraqi) Kurdistan“.
The immediate closing of Iran’s borders was Tehran’s instant reaction (to the announcement of the referendum), while Turkey threatened with sanctions and ordered flights to and from Erbil to be halted, with the main, central Iraqi government in Baghdad also reacting immediately and fiercely. And although the referendum was held, Baghdad, with the help of Iranian paramilitary groups, captured Kirkuk, which is rich in oil wells. The Kurds also lost all their lands after their victories over the Islamic State. Their effort for independence was backed by Israel, which believed that an independent Kurdistan could have been a bridgehead against Iran.
Relations with Israel and Iran
The recognition by the U.S. of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has given the opportunity for a new narrative in Turkey’s foreign policy that returns to the doctrine of 2010, which, back then sent Mavi Marmara to violate the blockade imposed by Gaza the Israelis. Relations between the two sides were partially restored after the “apology” by Benjamin Netanyahu and the compensation paid to the victims of the Israeli commandos’ attack. But Ankara had focused on overthrowing Assad.
Now that the doctrine is changing again, it returns to the effort of appearing like the country that fights for the rights of Muslims. That is why Erdogan convened the session of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation and called for the recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian Authority. At the same time, the Turkish president described Israel as “a terrorist state”. The Israeli Prime Minister did not take much time to respond.
As a matter of fact, Israeli officials are saying that, through Hezbollah, Tehran attempts to organise ground, air and naval bases in Syria in order to fight and destroy Israel. “We will not tolerate this,” Netanyahu says at every given opportunity.
Commenting on the recent statements by the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Israeli Prime Minister said he would not accept to be taught lessons from the one who is bombarding Kurdish villages, is backing Iran and supports the terrorists in the Gaza Strip.
The alliance between Russia-Turkey-Iran and Assad
A fragile alliance is formed in the Middle East between Russia, Iran and Turkey, whose leaders meet on the occasion of resolving the Syrian crisis. In this context, the presence of Shiite forces within Syria that cause Israel’s concern is also impressive.
As a NATO member, Ankara continues to maintain ties with the West, but as far as the Middle East is concerned, it considers its interests different to those of the U.S. that equip the Kurds (with weapons).
The existing controversy of Erdogan with Israel, the support to the Palestinians and Assad who remains in power pose serious concerns to analysts who believe the region is will experience new tensions and conflicts in Lebanon, Syria. Under the given conditions, it is difficult to predict Tel Aviv’s response to this new situation, but the surprise bombings by Israeli militants within Syria show that Israel is determined to respond to any event in which or because of which it feels threatened. Tel Aviv’s main goal is to halt the ground corridors that pass through Iraq and Syria, that Iran is planning, through which Tehran would supply Hezbollah men in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine with weapons…/IBNA