Turkey Finds It Is Sidelined as Broker in
November 20, 2012
After prayers on Friday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stepped
outside a mosque on the banks of the Bosporus here and dismissed a
suggestion that Turkey should talk directly with a onetime ally, Israel,
to attempt to resolve the crisis unfolding inGaza.
“We do not
have any connections in terms of dialogue with Israel,” he said.
Tuesday, Turkey seemed to indicate that while its strident anti-Israel
posture has been popular among Arabs, it has been at its own expense,
undermining its ability to play the role of regional power broker by
leaving it with little leverage to intercede in the Gaza conflict. As he
headed to Gaza with an Arab Leaguedelegation on Tuesday, Turkey’s
foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, suggested to reporters that
back-channel discussions had been opened with Israeli authorities.
new foreign policy has but one premise, to become a regional actor,”
said Soner Cagaptay, a Turkey expert at the Washington Institute for Near
East Policy. “To this end, Ankara needs to have persuasive power on all
countries of the region. In the past decade, Ankara has won that power
with the Arabs but lost it with the Israelis.”
stature in the Middle East has soared in recent years as it became a vocal
defender of Palestinian rights and an outspoken critic of Israel and
pursued a foreign policy whose intent was to become a decisive power in
regional affairs. But as Gaza and Israel were once again shooting at each
other, Turkey found that it had to take a back seat to Egypt on the stage
of high diplomacy. The heavy lifting unfolded in Cairo under the
inexperienced hand of Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi, whose
political roots lie in the Muslim Brotherhood, the Sunni Islamist movement
that helped found Hamas.
talk with both Hamas and Israel,” said Ersin Kalaycioglu, a professor of
international politics at Istanbul’s Sabanci University. “Turkey,
therefore, is pretty much left with a position to support what Egypt
foresees, but nothing more.”
itself largely shut out of the central and defining Arab-Israeli conflict.
On Monday, Mr. Erdogan helped seal that reality speaking at an Islamic
conference in Istanbul when he called Israel a “terrorist state.” At a
parliamentary meeting on Tuesday that was broadcast on Turkish television,
he said Israel was guilty of “ethnic cleansing.” Moreover, Mr.
Erdogan’s stance continues to play well with his domestic constituency
of conservative Muslims, making a reconciliation with Israel even more
difficult, even if he were interested in winning back Turkey’s seat at
the negotiation table, said Paul Sullivan, a Middle East security expert
at Georgetown University.
In the past,
Turkey could be relied upon by the West and the United States as an
effective mediator in the Middle East peace process, but the relations
between Turkey and Israel fractured after the last Gaza war in 2008.
later, Mr. Erdogan walked off the stage at the World Economic Forum in
Davos, Switzerland, after exchanging bitter words with the Israeli
president, Shimon Peres. The relationship shattered in 2010 after Israeli
commandos raided an aid ship bound from Turkey to Gaza, which is under an
economic blockade, resulting in the deaths of several Turkish citizens.
But as the
Gaza crisis has laid bare the effect that Turkey’s harsh stance on
Israel is having on Turkey’s regional ambitions, some Turks are calling
for a reappraisal of the country’s policy toward Israel and urging a
reopening of dialogue, if for no other reason than to help empower Turkey.
Turkey is more valuable in the eyes of regional and global actors,
including Hamas, in achieving an immediate cease-fire with the Israeli
operation on Gaza in its sixth day?” Kadri Gursel, a columnist for the
Turkish daily newspaper Milliyet, wrote on Monday. “Turkey that has
maintained enough distance to talk to Israel, or a Turkey that has no
communication with Israel? Which of the two would be a more influential
actor in its region? Of course, the first one. Turkey that can talk to
Israel. Turkey, however, cannot talk to Israel.”
a senior government official and member of Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and
Development Party, suggested publicly last week that Turkey should resume
dialogue with Israel as part of an effort to end the fighting in Gaza.
dismissed the suggestion when asked by a reporter after Friday Prayer what
effect the Gaza war would have on relations between Turkey and Israel.
relations are you asking about?” he said.
beginning of the outbreak of violence in Gaza between Israel and Hamas,
Mr. Erdogan was notably slow to speak out publicly. As the violence
erupted last week, Mr. Erdogan was touring a factory that makes tanks and
was initially silent on the unfolding crisis.
most of the region’s leaders rushed to the nearest microphone to condemn
Israel, the normally loquacious prime minister was atypically mute,”
wrote Aaron Stein, a researcher at the Center for Economics and Foreign
Policy Studies, a research center based in Istanbul, in an online column.
“While Erdogan was out touring the production facility for Turkey’s
first homemade tank, Egyptian President Morsi had already put his stamp on
world reaction by kicking out the Israeli ambassador and dispatching his
prime minister to visit Gaza.”
weekend, Mr. Erdogan visited Cairo on a previously planned trip to secure
economic cooperation agreements and showcase a growing alliance between
the two countries that some predict could become a regional anchor and
help shape the Middle East for generations to come. With its relative
prosperity and its melding of democratic and Islamic values, Turkey was
seen as the leading partner. But Mr. Erdogan’s visit, overshadowed as it
was by the Gaza crisis and Egypt’s role in trying to solve it, displayed
the limits to Turkish influence in the region.
of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the Gaza crisis
represented the litmus test of the notion of a “rising Turkey.”
Ankara now find a sympathetic ear with Arabs and Israelis alike?” he
asked. The answer, analysts said, was for now, at least, no.
A version of
this article appeared in print on November 21, 2012, on page A12 of the
New York edition with the headline: Turkey Finds It Is Sidelined As Broker