Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has been received as a hero in the Arab capitals he recently visited. Celebrating the Arab democratic awakening, he also condemned Israeli policies and said that the recognition of a Palestinian state was “not an option but an obligation.”
Earlier this month, in response to Tel Aviv’s refusal to apologize for its raid on Gaza-bound aid ships last year, Turkey suspended military ties with Israel, expelled top Israeli diplomats and vowed to send the Turkish Navy to escort the next humanitarian flotilla. In his opening address to a meeting of the Arab League in Cairo, Erdogan told a transfixed audience that Israel “must pay the price for the crimes it committed.”
Have the Turks become anti-Western radicals, as some accuse them in Tel Aviv and the United States? Do they want to take the place of a weakened Syria and a not fully trusted Iran in leading a regional front against the Jewish State and its American sponsor?
That would be rather strange since Turkey is still a member of NATO, still a candidate to membership in the European Union, and still an avowed friend and ally of the United States, a status which Washington officially reciprocates. At almost the same moment it was declaring sanctions against Israel, Ankara agreed to deploy an early warning radar as part of a NATO defense system whose declared goal is to shield Europe from Iranian missiles.
What is happening is in fact something more complex and more interesting, and it has some parallels with the evolution in recent years in other parts of the world. In South America, during most of the beginning of the 2000s, Chavez’ Venezuela, a close friend of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regimes, was supposed to be the local anti-imperialist firebrand, while Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva’s Brazil was seen by the radicals as too conciliatory towards the “Empire.”
But Chavez’ radicalism collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions and overblown rhetoric. The Venezuelan leader now even claims to be practically in love with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, yesterday accused of being a fascist, a gangster, and Washington’s stooge. And Santos certainly is Washington’s best friend in the region.
It is now moderate Brazil and its “zero problems with neighbors” policy to use Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s classic adage that is seen as the leader of the region’s efforts towards greater autonomy and diplomatic self-determination. No wonder Brasilia and Ankara have already shown their willingness to collaborate closely on some delicate international issues, such as Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
There’s also an economic side to this parallel soft power story. While Brazilian multinationals, the only local ones that really count in the region, lead almost all the big infrastructure projects in South America, Turkish contractors do exactly the same in Central Asia. And Turkish business interests are now not only penetrating the Middle East (guess who won the contracts to collect the garbage in Iraq’s two big cities of Baghdad and Basra?), but also Sub-Saharan Africa.
At the beginning of the Libyan civil war, when foreigners were precipitously evacuated, most observers were quite surprised to learn that there was an estimate 25,000 Turkish workers in Muammar Gaddafi’s country. There also, Turkish businesses were heavily involved in construction, among other sectors.
Ankara was at first rather cautious and not ready to break completely with the Libyan dictator, but when it did so, it provided $300 million to the rebels. No doubt Turkey’s economic opportunities will now increase even more. As for Egypt, the annual volume of its trade with Turkey has reached $3.7 billion, not too far from Ankara’s commercial interests with Israel.
Even considering those possible benefits of Turkey’s new aggressiveness, one question remains: in the end, is Erdogan deploying a brilliant strategy, or is he overplaying his hand and making a dangerous leap into the unknown? Regardless of the Turkish prime minister’s statesmanship and Davutoglu’s diplomatic acumen, affirm the skeptics, they will not be able to control all the consequences of their risky strategy in such a treacherous and volatile environment as the Middle East. In other words, Turkey is playing with fire.
Which might have been true if the status quo in the region was sustainable. It is not, Erdogan knows it, and his gambit makes much more sense if one really takes the measure of the current turmoil. Turkey’s leaders have got at least one thing fundamentally right: Arab autocracies and Israeli colonial delusions are part of the same obsolete equation. In view of Tel Aviv’s suicidal stubbornness, and considering the shameful shortsightedness and paralysis of the main superpower, a bit of creative chaos cannot be worse than the present unhealthy status.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
Globalization might already sound like a stale catchword, but the new interconnected reality it describes still has surprising tricks up its sleeves. So what do you do when you’re a leftish French writer born in Africa and living in South America, with a background in Slavic Studies, a worried fascination for emerging Asian powers, and interests ranging from classical political philosophy to Bollywood film music? Read, travel, wonder. And send scattered dispatches from modernity’s frontlines.
Marc Saint-Upéry is a French journalist and political analyst living in Ecuador since 1998. He writes about political philosophy, international relations and development issues for various French and Latin American publications and in the international magazines Le Monde Diplomatique and Nueva Sociedad. He is the author of El Sueño de Bolívar: El Desafío de las izquierdas Sudamericanas (Bolivar’s Dream: the Left’s challenge in South America).
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.