Monday, 4 July 2011


In March 2011 after a UN resolution to protect Libyan civilians from Gaddafi's forces and a NATO decision to launch air strikes, Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan criticized the French government for pushing NATO operations against Colonel Gaddafi because France and its allies were interested in Libya's oil. The comment was warranted because it is partly true that one reason for the NATO operations is oil, the others include geopolitical and ideological considerations, including sending a message to the rest of the radical Arab states. At an Istanbul conference, Erdogan noted:  “I wish that those who only see oil, gold mines and underground treasures when they look in that direction, would see the region through glasses of conscience from now on."
Erdogan made the anti-West comment because France has been against Turkey joining the EU, because the NATO campaign was launched before the general elections in Turkey that Erdogan easily won, and because he has ambitions of making sure that Turkey becomes the major Middle Eastern power that recaptures some of its lost glory of the Ottoman Empire. Despite the tough rhetoric, Erdogan approved of NATO air strikes against Libya.

On 4 July 2011, Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced that Ankara was reversing its policy on colonel Gaddafi. The foreign minister visited Benghazi where he pledged $200 million in additional aid for the rebels - $100 million had already been granted after US-EU pressure on Ankara. Davutogly announced that Turkey was freezing Libyan assets, following in the footsteps of the EU and other Arab nations, and recognizing the rebels as the legitimate representatives; a move that France, Italy and a few other countries have also adopted. Was this a fourth of July gift to the US, or is there more to Turkey's volte face?

Without the benefit of confidential diplomatic documents, we can only speculate about Western pressure on Turkey to make such drastic policy changes. What we know are the following: 
a) Erdogan is firmly in power, and despite problems with the leftist opposition and the Kurdish minority, he is solidly in control of the country as he has rewarded both military and businesspeople with an economy that is growing rapidly, thus benefiting the clique that supports him.
b) The rebel situation in Syria is becoming very sensitive, as refugees (estimate 12,000) are trying to secure safe passage in Turkey, while the border is now reinforced to prevent a flood of refugees. Breaking relations with Iran is a prelude to breaking relations with Syria. This is almost a certainty, if one follows the events and announcements on a daily basis.
c) As Turkey is cooling off its relations with Damascus, Iran, an ally to President Bashar al-Assad, is becoming concerned. This is exactly the scenario that would best serve the interests of EU, US and Israel; all concerned that Turkey had close ties with Libya, Iran and Syria, while distancing itself from Israel.
d) Iran is concerned about Turkey's larger role in Iraq and about Ankara allowing NATO forces to launch a war against Syria; something that would impact Lebanon and of course Iranian-backed Hezbollah. 
e) Turkey has been concerned about the Israeli-Greek rapprochement undercutting Turkey's Aegean role. Given that its Arab allies - Assad and Gaddafi - have limited prospects, Turkey jumped ship to make certain that it is on the winning side.
f) We do not know if there is a backdoor deal with Tel Aviv and Ankara, as we do not know what the EU, US, and Saudi Arabia have promised Turkey so that it can adopt a new pro-West foreign policy. But it is highly unlikely that Ankara made such a major monetary and political commitment without receiving anything in return.

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