Turkey's foreign policy changes tack towards the Middle East

Ankara, Turkey (Photo: Shutterstock)

Turkey has reached a new turning point  regarding its foreign policy towards the Middle East. Ahmad Abdul-Rahman explains.

Turkey's foreign policy towards the Middle East has undergone a number of political changes in recent years. It now has a greater inclination  to use military force, which showed when it intervened militarily in Syria and northern Iraq. This was also evident with Turkey's conclusion of a military cooperation agreement with the Government of National Accord in Libya.

Turkey has also tried to reset its balance of power at regional and international levels. This is a result of local, regional and international variables that contributed to the formation of the Turkish political elites' vision of the region. These elites began to view developments in the region as largely a new threat to Turkey's national security and regional aspirations. Turkey has also suffered from instability along its borders with Syria and Iraq, including large-scale terrorist attacks and massive refugee flows.  As a result, Turkey has become directly involved, including militarily, in the ongoing civil wars in Syria and Libya.

Accordingly, the new foreign policy doctrine of Turkey's the Justice and Development Party, of which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the leader, is the product of interactions that exist both in Turkey's geostrategic neighbourhood and changes at the domestic level. The developments of the Arab revolutions and the changes the political elites witnessed contributed to Ankara's adoption of a number of ideas that are reflected in the development of increasing perceptions of threats. This is in addition to Ankara's pursuit of security issues, engaging in the geopolitical polarisation of the region, and entering into regional competition, and increasing the use of military force.

Zero-sum regional competition

Turkey's  support of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region, and its quest for regional hegemony, led to the deterioration of Turkish relations with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt. The competition between Turkey and these countries had been taking place in different parts of  the region, but especially in the civil wars in Libya and Syria.

With regard to Turkish-Qatari cooperation in the Gulf, the two sides have sought to create a foothold in the Horn of Africa by adopting a policy of economic aid and political support.Turkey's position on Iran has been limited  to preserve its existing relations and common interests.

However, this did not last long. After 2016, a set of differences emerged between Turkey and Iran. Tehran expressed its dissatisfaction with the Turkish military operations in Syria, while Turkey denounced the increasing activity of Iran and its affiliated militias which supported the Syrian regime. Despite having divergent interests and competing for influence, Turkey and Iran have been able to avoid direct and open confrontation. Turkey considered the Trump administration's May 2018 withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal a regrettable step and continued its dialogue with Iran. 

Qatar and Turkey 

Turkey has generally competed with regional powers. However, Turkey has developed close relations with Qatar.  The two countries supported the Muslim Brotherhood in the region and Ankara,Turkey's capital, established a military base in Qatar in 2015. Relations between the two countries solidified after the Arab boycott of Qatar in 2017. This included official visits and military cooperation. This closeness also contributed to creating a security dilemma between Ankara and other regional powers.

Increased use of military force
Since 2016, increasingly Ankara has used military force to achieve its expansionist goals in Syria. This has involved securing its borders and
encircling the Kurdish forces stationed in northern Syria as well as creating a foothold in Syria to control waves of illegal immigration to Turkey. 

As part of its competition with regional powers,Turkey also became involved in Libya, which includes to its support for its
Government of National Accord. This is along with the emergence of energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean. By concluding a
memorandum of understanding on border demarcation, followed by a security agreement that granted the possibility of the Turkish army being deployed in Libya.

Turkey's new foreign policy doctrine

The Turkish political elite in the Justice and Development Party believes that the changes in the structure of the global and regional system have enabled Turkey to obtain some new opportunities. The old world order has disappeared and a new one has been formed. In addition,  the party's political elites have made clear that Turkey is now more independent. This follows the implementation of a new foreign policy based on shifting alliances. 

This is in addition to the claim that there is an international campaign targeting Erdogan. Therefore, Turkey must adopt robust strategies to deal with the growing threats.

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Friday, 29 September 2023