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The Takeaway: Turkey thrust into spotlight amid Ukraine-Russia talks

Turkey acts as mediator in the Russia-Ukraine crisis, Israel is on high alert after a wave of terrorist attacks, how drones are revolutionizing the battlefield, and more.  
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak (C) speaks to the press.

Leading the news: Turkey’s role as a broker in the Russia-Ukraine war took center stage this week

On Tuesday, Istanbul’s Dolmabahce Palace hosted another round of direct peace talks between the two sides. As expected, the face-to-face negotiations concluded without any major diplomatic breakthrough. But Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu struck an upbeat tone, telling reporters that “meaningful progress” was made.

Middle ground: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to leverage Turkey’s relations with Russia and Ukraine, whose leaders he recently referred to as his “dear friends.”

Turkey has supplied Bayraktar TB2 drones to Ukraine, closed the Turkish straits to Russian warships and condemned Russia at the United Nations. At the same time, Ankara refused to join in sanctions against Moscow and has kept its airspace open to Russian planes.

“A Black Sea power and NATO member with significant trade and security ties with Russia and Ukraine alike, Turkey sees itself uniquely positioned to be a facilitator, if not an actual mediator, in the war,” writes Amberin Zaman

Zaman reports that Western governments aren’t necessarily asking Turkey to take a harder line on Russia, fearing that Moscow could retaliate in Idlib province where Turkey and Russia support opposite sides of the Syrian civil war. A Turkish official expressed similar concerns

Wartime boost: Erdogan’s outsized diplomatic involvement in the crisis comes ahead of Turkish presidential elections next year. As Pinar Tremblay reports, Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party sees his turn on the global stage “as a God-sent opportunity to sweep the 2023 elections.” Others think the war’s economic consequences for Turkey could have the opposite effect. 

Diplomatic thaw? The Turkish mediation has won praise from Western leaders, including President Joe Biden who expressed his appreciation in a rare phone call with Erdogan this month. 

Turkey’s handling of the Ukraine crisis has “relatively eased Erdogan’s diplomatic isolation in the Western fold,” writes Fehim Tastekin. But “will the thaw between Turkey and its Western partners last?”

From our regional correspondents:

1. Islamic State-linked attacks rattle Israel 

Israel is on high alert following a string of terror attacks that left 11 people dead in the past week. A Palestinian gunman killed five people in a Tel Aviv suburb on Tuesday in an attack that followed a wave of apparent Islamic State-inspired violence in Israel.  The rare IS-linked attacks came as a landmark regional summit was held in Israel’s Negev desert over the weekend. “Israelis with long memories are experiencing deja vu,” writes Ben Caspit. “Will Islamist terrorism once again undermine a historic peace process between Israel and its Arab and Muslim neighbors in the region?” For more on the Negev gathering, check out Daoud Kuttab’s latest.    2. Israel’s right wing point finger at Arab party 

Right-wing Israeli politicians wasted little time taking advantage of the suspected terror attacks. Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that Prime Minister Naftali “Bennett’s weakness is costing lives.” Others cast blame on Ra’am, the Arab political party that is part of Bennett’s governing coalition. Afif Abu Much describes a double standard: “When Jews have launched terror attacks on Arabs, no one drew any connections with the inclusion of Jewish parties in the coalition.”  3. China shies away from Nile Dam dispute

The dispute over Ethiopia’s controversial Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam didn't make it onto the agenda of the newly appointed Chinese envoy Xue Bing during his first Horn of Africa tour. Ethiopia and its downstream neighbors, Sudan and Egypt, are locked in a longstanding dispute over Addis Ababa’s multibillion-dollar hydroelectric dam project, which they fear will limit their supplies of vital Nile water. Mohamed Saied takes a look at why Beijing has shied away from involvement in the dispute.     4. Turkey pressures NATO on arms embargoes  

The Ukraine crisis has thrust Turkey’s role in NATO back into the spotlight, and Ankara is seizing the moment. During the March 24 NATO summit in Brussels, Erdogan pressed his counterparts to remove their sanctions on Turkey’s defense industry. 

Fehim Tastekin writes that “while European countries are likely to be more flexible, US sanctions remain a tough row to hoe.” Erdogan failed to land a meeting with Biden during the summit, which Amberin Zaman attributes to Turkey’s refusal to get rid of its Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems. 

5. Oman's fiscal outlook improves as oil prices surge 

Oman's fiscal situation is "very stable and improving,” three sources at the sultanate's National Program for Fiscal Balance told Sebastian Castelier. The tiny Gulf country’s economy suffered from declining oil prices and COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020. A sharp increase in oil prices have since helped shrink Oman’s budget deficit, but as Castelier explains, the bump in revenues risks being relatively short-lived. 

Multimedia this week: Israel’s UAVs, Middle East architecture 

Listen: Ben Caspit and former Israeli air force pilot Ofer Haruvi discuss how UAVs are changing modern battlefields.

Watch: Check out the latest episode of Reading the Middle East with Gilles Kepel, where he interviews renowned French architect Jean Nouvel about his experience designing world-famous buildings throughout the Middle East.