From a proactive to a reactive foreign policy

By Semih İdiz

Turkey’s increasingly messy entanglement with Israel is forcing Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to change tack on his overall foreign policy vision vis-à-vis the Middle East. He continues to garner much respect and support on Arab streets and among radical groups or countries in the region with his increasingly angry remarks toward Israel.

It is unlikely, however, that there is a role left for Turkey to play in terms of the seminal issue concerning the region, namely the Arab-Israeli dispute. There is no way Israel will consent to a Turkish role in any discussions concerning this issue in the near future. As for Davutoğlu, he continues to up the ante, having received the cue from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in this respect.

Talking to reporters in his plane on his way back from Kyrgyzstan over the weekend, Davutoğlu more or less laid down the law. He was quoted as saying if Israel refuses to apologize for its deadly attack on the Mavi Marmara ship, which left nine Turks dead, relations between the two countries will never improve.

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“They have three possible roads ahead of them. They either apologize or they accept an international commission of inquiry and its findings or relations will be severed. We have not determined a deadline here, but we will not wait indefinitely,” Davutoğlu said, according to Monday’s daily Hürriyet.

These are categorical remarks and leave no room for compromise, and the way things are going it appears ties will be severed if Davutoğlu sticks to his word, because Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already discounted the possibility of an apology.

There appeared to be a partial stepping down on Davutoğlu’s part, because he said, if the commission of inquiry, set up unilaterally by Israel, says Turkey is due an apology and compensation for the deaths on the Mavi Marmara, then Ankara would accept its findings.

But that is unlikely since it is assumed universally that this Israeli commission will try to come out with an approach that also apportions blame to Turkey. Ankara, however, wants no blame to be directed at it and expects all the fingers to be pointed at Israel.

That outcome, however, appears unlikely even in the event an international inquiry commission is established, since such commissions are generally double-edged. Ankara has set its mind on such an international commission but is giving scant thought to the fact that even an international commission would look into the ties between the Erdoğan administration and the İHH, the Islamic charity group that was one of the organizers of the Mavi Marmara mission.

This group has already come under scrutiny in the West, and there is a body of opinion building, mainly in Washington, which believes İHH is a radical group with connections to Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization in Washington and in Europe. So an AKP-İHH link would obviously not work to the advantage of the Erdoğan administration.

Oddly enough the Arabic daily al-Hayat carried a report last week quoting unnamed “Turkish sources” who maintain President Obama warned Prime Minister Erdoğan during their meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Toronto that an international inquiry commission may not come up with what Ankara wants.

There is, of course, no doubt Israel in the first place botched what should have been a policing initiative and not a full-blown deadly military operation against the Mavi Marmara in international waters. This is being said even in Israel, so if there is anything that should be accounted for, the Netanyahu government should do so.

It is unlikely, however, that this will happen, so we can expect a further deterioration in Turkish-Israeli ties given the radical nature of the governments in both countries.

Even the political fallout of the secret meeting between Davutoğlu and Israeli Trade Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer in Brussels last week showed how touchy both countries are at the present time.

In the end, that meeting, which set off a row between Prime Minister Netanyahu and ultra-right-wing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, may have done more damage than good. At any rate, once news of the meeting was leaked, Foreign Minister Davutoğlu went out of his way to underline the request to meet had come from the Israeli side and that he had used the occasion to give Turkey’s demands to the Israeli trade minister in person.

This certainly did not sound like a minister trying to ease the tension to find a way out of this debacle with Israel. As matters stand, one of the things Davutoğlu revealed on his return from Kyrgyzstan was that all flights by Israeli military aircraft over Turkey had been banned until further notice, pending Israel’s apology.

Previously officials in Ankara had said such flights would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, but it seems now after Davutoğlu’s remarks there is a blanket ban.

None of this portends well for Davutoglu’s previously “proactive” approach where he was in the forefront of efforts to try to solve regional disputes and thus try to surround Turkey with a ring of peace and stability.

If anything, together with his government’s stand on Hamas and Iran, things have gotten worse, no matter how much Prime Minister Erdoğan and Mr. Davutoğlu may try to present the excitement they generated on Arab streets as a great success.

Gone is the "proactivity" now, and instead we have an increasingly reactive Turkey, which is also on the defensive against critics in the West where serious concerns continue to be raised about Ankara’s overall orientation.

The AKP administration is also discovering now, no doubt much to its chagrin, that its stance on Israel is also becoming a precondition for better ties with the US – a fact that is clearly going to make itself felt more and more in the coming weeks and month if the angry feedback from Washington is anything to go by. We fail to see the success story for Turkey in all of this.
Hürriyet Daily News and Economic Review