Turkey Pulse

Foreign Policy Challenges Point To a Tense Summer for Turkey

Article Summary
Anti-Turkish demonstrations where Turkish flags were burnt were held in Basra, Iraq recently. Meanwhile, Turkish and Israeli jets confronted each other over Cyprus. But preoccupation with domestic affairs has led the Turkish government and media to put these important issues beyond its borders on the back burner, writes Semih Idiz. 

Because of our domestic preoccupations, negative developments in the Mediterranean and the Middle East that have the potential to affect us [in Turkey] are put on the backburner. There are important issues that we must be aware of. Here we are not only referring to the demonstrations that took place last Saturday [May 19] in front of our consulate in Basra, Iraq, when a Turkish flag was set on fire. In addition to that demonstration, which drew angry condemnation from our foreign ministry, last week, Turkish and Israeli jets confronted each other over Cyprus.

Although this drew heavy attention abroad, in Turkey not much was said about it. These two developments alone are enough to signal that Turkish foreign policy is heading into a summer full of headaches,  where even military measures will be bandied about. In this context, Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki’s statements that “Turkey is becoming an enemy country” take on a different dimension.

Bomb in Damascus

There are signs that this perception is gaining momentum among the Shiites.  No matter how ludicrous it may sound, some see Turkey’s fingerprints on the Damascus bombings that most are attributing to Al-Qaeda.

In the meantime, we are making efforts to preserve normal relations with Iran. These efforts are mutual, if they are but small and pleasant gestures. For example, Iran officially thanked Turkey for securing the release of two Iranian engineers abducted by the Syrian opposition. For some reason, this news did not draw any attention in Turkey. Around the same time, Turkey thanked Iran for securing the release of two Turkish journalists held by the Syrian regime. In other words, an exchange took place. No matter how positively you may think of this cooperation between Ankara and Tehran, it goes to show which side each country is on when it comes to the Syrian conflict.

New Tender Opened By the Greek Cypriots

This may very well be why these small, pleasant gestures do not prevent the publication of virulently anti-Turkish articles in the Iranian press, which is strictly controlled by the regime. It should not come as a surprise if anti-Turkish demonstrations are staged in Iran after Syria and Iraq.

And, as if these were not enough, a new tender opened by Greek Cypriots for hydrocarbon exploration in the eastern Mediterranean prompted a tough statement from Ankara, that alluded to the potential for “military measures.” Ankara appears to be bristling over the participation of 15 companies for the Greek tender-offer. These companies include Total (France), Petronas (Malaysia), Kolas (Korea), Enid (Italy), Novato (Russia), Delek (Israel) and Woodside (Australia).  Although our foreign ministry released a statement describing them as “mostly medium-sized companies” in its statement, the short list above is enough to show the presence of world giants among them.

Given such an environment, the confrontation that took place between Turkish and Israeli fighter aircraft over Cyprus is significant. The statement issued by Turkey’s foreign ministry asserted that “no activity of any kind will be allowed” in disputed areas. It also invited companies involved to withdraw from participating in the tender-offer.

Turkey warned those countries participating in the tender-offer that they would be held responsible for the tension in the region. Moreover, they will also be excluded from Turkish energy projects.

We will not have to wait long for the results of these serous warnings, which we see as “a tough threat” while foreign observers call it a “bluff.”

Signs of New Headaches

Judging by what has been written so far, these companies have no intention of complying with Ankara’s warnings. This could force Turkey to confront Russia, France, Italy, South Korea and Australia, among others. We are not even mentioning Israel, as we all know of the status of our relations with that country.

In view of this general outlook, we are leaving aside, for the time being, the debate over whether our foreign policy is successful or not. It is obvious that we will need  skillful foreign policy management in coming days. Otherwise, we will find ourselves in the midst of an undesirably hot summer.

Found in: turkish foreign policy, turkish-israeli relations, turkish-iranian relations, turkey, tender, oil and gas, oil exploration, oil, israel, iran, greek cypriots, greece

Semih Idiz is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. He is a journalist who has been covering diplomacy and foreign policy issues for major Turkish newspapers for 30 years. His opinion pieces can be followed in the English-language Hurriyet Daily News. His articles have also been published in The Financial Times, The Times of London, Mediterranean Quarterly and Foreign Policy magazine.


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