There is some speculation that Turkey may develop into one of the world's top 25 economies in the world, but that scenario may be optimistic, against the reality of large balance of payments deficits, financed with external borrowing. Moreover, the key sectors that include automotive, pharmaceutical, IT, shipbuilding and textiles may not remain competitive in the future. On the plus side, the turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa only helps to strengthen Turkey, assuming that minority and dissident segments do not rise up against the regime.
Turkey's political and economic ascendancy makes sense because there is no longer a Communist bloc, the Middle East has weakened, the US has failed in Iraq and Afghanistan, both EU and US appear helpless in bringing about a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, and it seems that such a course would solidify Erdogan's domestic political base threatened by secularists inside the military as well as outside. Until the archives of a number of countries become available to the public, we will not know why Turkey and Israel chose to clash in such a dramatic fashion.
From published reports so far we have a nebulous picture. Some dynamics behind the clash include:
1. Turkey's desire to bring out into the open US foreign policy on whether Ankara will play the catalytic role that the Obama administration desired when it took office; a time when Bush's foreign policy appeared it was not achieving anything desirable for broader US interests. Erdogan talks tough about the West, but capitulates when it comes time to go along with NATO as the case of Libya and Syria have proved.
2. Challenging Israel has been a great way to unify reluctant generals behind the regime and to recapture public support at home and in the Muslim world where there are no great leaders speaking out. However, Turkey has played the Israeli issue just enough to tease the Muslim population at home and abroad without going to the brink as to completely alienate the US.
3. Turkey's ties to Iran and Hamas are justified from a political perspective, if we consider the intermediary role Erdogan wants to play in the Middle East and the absence of an alternative from the Arab side. Besides, Iran is a lucrative market and one that presents great opportunities for the future if Turkey wants to play a greater regional role. Turkey's trade target with Iran is set at $30 billion annually, or three times higher than the current level.
4. Turkey's increasing economic ties with its neighbors and especially Russia, that has signed a number of agreements on energy is something that EU and US have taken notice. Turkey has a sense that it needs to pursue a multi-dimensional foreign policy, and the place to do it starts with neighbors as well as China that has a growing interest in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey-China trade is set to triple so that it reaches $50 billion annually by 2015 and $100 billion by 2020. In essence, China will become the dominant economic power, complicating matters for a country that is a NATO member. Militarily linked to the West and economically linked to the Orient may very well be a great balancing act for Ankara.
5. Turkey has to play the geopolitical card more so today than ever because it sees that EU membership will be delayed amid a protracted economic recession and European reluctance for political, financial, and cultural/religious reasons to allow Turkish membership into the Eurozone. Although the US wants Turkey's greater integration with the EU, France and Germany are adamantly against it for a number of political, ideological, economic and cultural considerations. EU's reluctance may actually best serve Turkey to continue the path of multilateral foreign policy and economic relations.
6. Given Turkey's vote at the UN Security Council not to continue with the US-led ''sanctions diplomacy," it now seems likely that Israel, with US approval, adopted a more hostile attitude in the last two years. Nevertheless, Turkey has played a brokering role between Hamas and Israel to mitigate hostilities, especially in Gaza. Israel and US both want to continue the triangle between Turkey, Greece and Israel as a means of counterbalancing the Arab states, and that is a strategy that EU supports as long as it promises to lead to lessening regional tensions.
Tayyip Erdogan may or may not have illusions about the limitations of his ambitious foreign policy and the limit of Turkey's economic potential. Turkish foreign policy is not determined solely by domestic forces from military to business, and by 'national interests' as the regime defines it, but by the EU and US which sets the limits and with Israel helping behind the scenes to make certain a regional power gap is not filled by any country that Tel Aviv does not approve.
The uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa could prove to be of great diplomatic and economic benefit to Turkey, or they could prove to be a disaster if trouble spreads inside Turkey and the regime resorts to force against minorities and dissidents. Turkey appears to be on the road to regional greatness, the bridge between Asia and Europe that could benefit in many respects.
Cultivating closer ties with Asia and Africa, Turkey could play the role that the US and EU want it, a role that carries enormous risks given the anti-Western sentiment that prevails among Muslims. Turkey will continue to pursue a symbolic non-aligned type role for the sake of domestic and foreign public consumption, while behind the scenes it will continue to be faithful to its traditional military partners and new economic allies. In short, Turkey will remain a western client state militarily for the near future until such time as its economic status and ascendancy in the Middle East permits a more independent foreign and defense foreign policy.