Ankara Shifts from Mediation to Sectarian Partisanship

Article Summary
The recent visit of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to Lebanon has come at a moment when Turkey’s policies are becoming less conciliatory, and more confrontational. Since Davutoglu’s last trip to Lebanon one year ago, Turkey has seemingly abandoned its "zero problems with neighbors” mantra, and has begun to take sides in the growing regional conflict pitting Sunnis against Shiites, writes Mohammed Nouredddine.

One year has elapsed between the last visit of Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu to Lebanon and his current visit. But that infamous last visit by the Turkish FM and his Qatari counterpart to Lebanon was short and turbulent.


One whole year [has elapsed] between that visit and today; [does it not] seem unusual for Turkish diplomacy - especially in relation to countries of "strategic importance," as they have been described by Davutoglu in the past?


Davutoglu had boasted a few days ago that he had met his Iranian counterpart six times during the past four months. Certainly, Lebanon is not Iran; but in recent years it has become an arena that recognized Turkey’s role and influence. Everyone [in Lebanon] has welcomed and respected the Turkish role, which is characterized by moderation - the reason for people’s positive reactions to Turkey.

When we refer to the last visit of Davutoglu taking place exactly a year ago, it causes us to look carefully at the rifts in the relations between Turkey and Lebanon.

We cannot blame everything on the tensions in Turkish-Syrian relations; however, Turkey knows that every country has its vital areas of interest.  For example Cyprus is a vital area for Turkey and the Caucasus is a vital area for Russia. Lebanon, on the other hand, is a vital area for Syria. Ankara knows this, and for this reason Damascus has always been Turkey’s gateway into Lebanon. It is not a coincidence that Turkish UNIFIL troops entered Lebanon through Syria and that all the Turkish visits to Lebanon were preceded by discussions with the Syrian leadership.

The Turkish attempts to enforce its influence in Lebanon has surpassed the above-mentioned process and now Turkey has started to adopt policies in harmony with the start of a new phase in its foreign policies toward the countries that are part of the axis of defiance and resistance.  These days, Turkey is closer to the Western [position - which threatens to become a source of conflict in the future].


The Turkish shift away from the policy of regional balance is not primarily linked to the Arab Spring. [Rather,] this shift started following the Israeli aggression on the Turkish Freedom Flotilla as it was heading to Gaza, an incident that resulted [in the spilling of Turkish blood].   Ankara clearly understood the message [being sent by Israel] and realized that Turkey’s policies in the region could not continue to be independent of Western policies. After the Freedom Flotilla incident, Turkish policies toward Israel became less confrontational, despite the apparent tensions [between the two countries] at the time, which have continued up to the present.


Signs of the Turkish shift away from its former policies were present during four incidents in four different countries:

The first incident was Turkey’s abandonment of moderation [in its policies towards] Iraq, when it sought to prevent Nouri al-Maliki from becoming prime minister and Jalal al-Talibani from assuming the presidency.  After Turkey's attempts failed, it decided to retreat from the situation.

The second incident was Turkey’s acceptance, during the Lisbon [NATO] Summit in November 2010, of the deployment of missile defense radar on its territories. No Turkish official can persuade us that Russia and Iran are not the parties targeted by this move.  During his recent visit to Iran, Davutoglu said that Turkey will not be a springboard for aggression against Iran and that the latter does not pose any threat or danger to Turkey. His words did not change the fact that the Malatya radar, which began operating a few weeks ago, is a vital part of a strategy intended to deter Iran and Russia. This was affirmed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, when he said that Iran is targeted by the radar and that "we have to tell the black cat that it is in fact black," in other words to call things what they are.

The third incident took place in Lebanon and was represented by the turbulent visit of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the end of November 2010. The favoritism was apparent when Erdogan did not meet with Saad al-Hariri's allies at the time, namely Najib Mikati and Minister Muhammad al-Safadi. This action was proof of its bias toward a particular Lebanese political movement and a regional response to the visit of the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Lebanon, a month prior to Erdogan's visit.

The fourth incident involved Syria and took place at the beginning of the demonstrations in that country. The apparent shift in the traditional Turkish policies [occurred] when Turkey decided to support one side against the other.

Ankara decided to abandon its favorite hobby of remaining at a distance and playing the mediator. Instead, it began to engage in pressuring one side - namely the Syrian regime - by teaching lessons and setting deadlines. Meanwhile, it did not ask the Syrian opposition to do anything beyond organizing itself and uniting its ranks. Turkey went further, sheltering defectors from the Syrian army; training and arming them; and later allowing them to use [Turkish] territory to launch operations within Syria - something confirmed by the Western media, particularly by pro-Turkish outlets. Turkey's decision to no longer partake in the policies intended to end problems with these countries without including other countries.  However, this takes us to a whole new level.

Before arriving to Lebanon, Davutoglu was interviewed by several Turkish newspapers, including Zaman and Yeni Safak, which published excerpts of the interviews with Davutoglu conducted by prominent journalists.


We will leave aside the statements of he [Davutoglu] who first discussed the Strategic Depth of some countries, saying that the Shiite Awakening was defeated in the Iran-Iraq War and that the Islamic Revolution in Iran stood idly by as the massacre of Hama took place - without indicating which massacre he was referring to, the massacre of 1980 or of 2011, both of which took place in Hama. [He thus claimed] that the stage is now set for a Sunni Awakening which seeks to spread democracy. Davutoglu’s calls for change in three specific countries - namely Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon - and [his description] of these countries as heading towards change and having political powers inconsistent with the results of elections, demonstrates that Turkish policy will continue to be [confrontational towards Shia powers], similar to what has happened in its relations with Syria and Iraq (e.g. Tariq al-Hashimi’s case) - as well as Lebanon.  This places increased pressure on the visit of the Turkish Minister, which we had hoped would not be preceded by these [confrontational] policies. In conclusion, it is accurate to question the reason behind this visit, given the policies [currently being promoted by Turkey and their potential to] reignite Lebanon’s dormant fires [of sectarian conflict].

When the Turkish Foreign Minister calls for change in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, he is holding Iran responsible for the clash between the Sunnis and the Shiites. He also excludes the countries of the Arab Gulf [from his call for change], characterizing them as rich and enjoying different circumstances from the three countries mentioned above. [His praise for] the countries of the Arab Spring was based on a political policy, and not on principles. [These policies] seek to change the political authorities in countries that did not go in parallel with the present Turkish policies.  

The call for change in two countries that have democratic elections, Lebanon and Iraq, while protecting the situation in countries in desperate need of change can be considered a double standard that no one wanted the Turkish Minister to be characterized with for he calls for eliminating problems with people and not regimes.

We open the parenthesis here to say that it is not diplomacy when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated, a few days ago during his press conference with his Norwegian counterpart, that he told Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama that "it is better to stay in Iraq until the democratic process is completed; for if they leave the democratic structure of the country will vanish. For Iraqis to understand parliamentary democracy and be able to apply it on the ground will require many years.”

Turkey decided to no longer be responsible for eliminating issues and with that, the strategic importance theory unexpectedly collapsed. Even more dangerous is the prospect of Ankara deciding to no longer assume the role of mediator, instead becoming a party to the struggles between countries or within them. Great efforts are required of the Lebanese officials who will meet with Davutoglu to protect Lebanon from this change and sedition which certain parties seek to inflict on it.

Turkey is faced with the serious problem of its [foreign policy] identity, which is still in transition.  No one has been able to resolve this problem, be it the seculars, the military, or the neo-Islamists.

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