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Erdoğan Changes Directions: Time for a Regional Plan to Truly Fight ISIL

ISIL will not spare any country in the Middle East from getting some of its deadly mix. Saudi Arabia, which has been accused by some of its enemies of having supported the organization, has been hit by a chain of audacious suicide attacks in the space of a day. ISIL did not even avoid holy places where violence is prohibited by the teachings of Islam. Even in Kuwait, known as a peaceful and stable country, ISIL moved to attack its national unity through targeting Shia mosques. Kuwaiti security was able to abort a chain of terrorist attacks planned by three ISIL sleeper cells. One of the targets was the Shia Zain al-Abedin Mosque, to sow the seeds of sectarian cracks in a country that has a distinctive national identity.

Shortly before the start of Kuwait’s security crackdown on ISIL supporters and cells, the terrorist organization hit Baghdad with a chain of attacks targeting Shia heavily populated areas, the worst attack to hit Baghdad in recent years. And before that, it carried out coordinated suicide bombings at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport.

But the case of Turkey deserves a short pause and a little more reflection. For while the attacks on Iraq and the planned attacks on Kuwait targeted the Shia, in Turkey, where there is a very small Shia minority, the objective was straightforwardly political.

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a U-turn in his position on ISIL a few months ago. Now he is cracking down on the routes the group used to smuggle everything to Syria, and from Syria to Europe. This was an indication that Erdoğan has already started changing directions.

It has become abundantly clear that, as far as Syria is concerned, the Turkish president has made serious errors while calculating his own capabilities and influence, and that of the rest of the actors in this chain of crises in which he tried to play a role. But now, he is trying to wrap up this roller coaster of tactics and strategies that he started in 2011, since it has become crystal clear that he ended up with a net loss.

He sent a letter of apology to President Vladimir Putin for shooting down a Russian jet last year, after long months of refusing to do so, and he gave up his demand that Israel apologize for attacking a Turkish ship carrying aid to Gaza in 2010 and signed a deal with Israel to normalize relations. And now, there are speculations that he will make a move to improve his ties with Tehran.

These steps betrays the fact that was obvious to many and which seems to have finally dawned on Ankara: Turkey is at an impasse! And the real risk of this impasse was that it was blocking the road to a continuation of steady economic growth, hence threatening the political power of Erdoğan and his ruling party.

But where will Turkey go from here?

In the case of Russia, the Turkish Stream has been central to regaining Turkey’s relevance on the energy map of that part of the world. Gazprom spokesperson, Sergey Kupriyanov, has stated: “Gazprom is open to dialogue on the Turkish Stream and always has been.”

Erdoğan’s quick moves to open up to Russia and Israel has also resulted in a scarcely noticed competition between the two countries, for who can move faster in developing its gas routes to Turkey to satisfy its needs, and from there to Europe.

It may be that Gazprom will move faster. However, the director general of Israel’s Ministry of National Infrastructures, Energy, and Water Resources, Shaul Meridor, held a series of meetings in New York with potential investors in the pipeline connecting Israel’s gas fields to Turkey, during the first week of July. He said that Turkey’s relative proximity to Israel means that the pipeline could be swiftly laid.

Israel seems to have decided to bypass Cyprus and connect directly to the Turkish port of Ceyhan (360 miles). The other alternative, which is to export the gas first to Cyprus, where the island’s own gas would be added, then pumped to Turkey, would certainly go through many political disputes related to North and South Cyprus and Turkish-Greek ties.

In other words, it has become a race between Russian and Israeli exporters of gas to start their journey to Ankara.

The political fruits of Erdoğan’s move are also important for Turkey. Russia is active in Syria. It has opened a channel with the PKK and other Kurdish groups active on Turkey’s southern borders and in its southeast region.

Erdoğan has suffered in Syria one of his worst strategic set-backs if not the worst of all. For the Turkish president to regain some relevancy in the course of the crisis in his southern neighbor, he had to knock on the Kremlin’s door.

In the case of Iran, Erdoğan does not give the impression now that he is in the mood for escalation and confrontation with any regional power. The rising armed activities of Kurdish groups in northwest Iran, the Iranian Kurdistan, may add a motive for the Turkish president to coordinate with Tehran rather than provoke it.

Turkey is expected now to behave like a normal country. It is getting back to the category of predictability, so to speak. From that position, it may have the opportunity to play a constructive role in the Middle East in order to help end the general crisis of that region.

The general picture encourages the potential rise of an anti-terrorism pact in that most vulnerable area of the world. This seems to be a proper moment for the international community to propose actionable steps that may align the region’s countries in a collective effort to fight terrorism.

The new Erdoğan shows that at the end of the day “la raison finira par avoir raison” – reason ends up being reasonable. It is in the national interest of regional countries to find common ground in mutual economic cooperation and an effective strategy to fight terror. All of them are hit by this cancer and the cure is in their hands.

Source: Middle East Briefing

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المركز الديمقراطى العربى

المركز الديمقراطي العربي مؤسسة مستقلة تعمل فى اطار البحث العلمى والتحليلى فى القضايا الاستراتيجية والسياسية والاقتصادية، ويهدف بشكل اساسى الى دراسة القضايا العربية وانماط التفاعل بين الدول العربية حكومات وشعوبا ومنظمات غير حكومية.

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