While there may be bitter criticism in the foreign media against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government, the reality is that the regional circumstances have enhanced the strategic need for Turkey. Despite the negative attitude of the media and civil society, the bar in relations with Ankara is getting higher.
The heavy Russian shadow cast on Ukraine amplified Turkey’s traditional importance for the European Union and the United States. For NATO and the United States, Turkey is in a strategic position to curtail the Russian desire to swallow Ukraine.
In its south, Turkey has a key position in the redesigning of Syria. The Syrian policy is based on marginalizing al-Qaeda and its offshoots and putting the Free Syrian Army in charge of the opposition. This is how the United States and Western powers want to achieve a solution without touching hot coals and force [President Bashar] al-Assad to undertake reforms.
To these we must add the plans to extract natural gas from Mediterranean waters between Israel and south Cyprus. Transporting this gas to Turkey via undersea pipelines and distributing to Europe via Greece and Bulgaria is of strategic importance as alternative energy. The effort is to create an alternative to dependence on Russian natural gas. It is impossible not to detect this alternative energy plan of the United States and the European Union behind the recent moves improving chances of peace between north and south Cyprus. This is how one has to view the appearance of US Vice President [Joe Biden] in Cyprus after a 42-year hiatus with an intention to promote a solution.
It is not only about peace in Cyprus. US President Barack Obama’s pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call Erdogan and apologize [regarding the Mavi Marmara raid] has to be seen in this context. This fulfilled one of the three conditions Ankara had laid out to normalize relations with Israel.
The two other conditions — compensation for the Marmara flotilla attack and to open a corridor for Turkish humanitarian assistance to Gaza — are about to be realized. These will be followed by elevating diplomatic representation of the two countries to the ambassadorial level. If this is achieved, then the next step is to work out the transfer of alternative energy to Europe via Turkey.
Now, in such an environment, the decision of a Turkish court to arrest Israeli commanders and to issue international red alerts for their detention could come as a shock. But it is not a live grenade that could destroy Turkish-Israeli relations. Of course, there will be reactions from the Israeli public. The government in Turkey might receive public praise by those who will say, "Wow, the Israelis apologized, and look at this Erdogan who smashed them again.”
But the state policy is one thing and the judiciary is something else. Although we might have doubts about separation of powers in our country, this is what our constitution stipulates.
Anyhow, even when Turkish-Israeli relations were hitting the bottom, economic relations were booming. Only tourism was suffering. Now, we are on the verge of normalizing that. Even Israeli El Al airlines might be resuming its flights [to Turkey].
Foreign relations are living organisms. They constantly change. What is important is not to miss out on these changes and to be aware of the realities behind the scenes.
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