Recent news reveal that Turkey and Israel are now ready to normalize their relations, agreeing on most of the issues that had caused frictions previously. This came as surprising to Turkish society because of the hostile stance of its pro-Islamist ruling party and its former chairman and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan against Israel and Jews.
This unexpected development can’t be taken independently from Turkish-Russian relations. Recently, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu infamously confessed that Turkey had not participated in the embargo against Russia, and complained that Russians are now violating Turkish borders and there is an open conflict between Turkish and Russian interests in Middle East. This is a confession that remarks how disastrously the “New Turkey” concept and foreign policy of President Erdoğan and his team has collapsed. The Ukrainian cause is especially important: the so-called nationalist and religious policy of Erdoğan sacrificed Turkey’s ethnic and religious brothers, the Crimean Tatars, who are facing what the Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev calls a “creeping genocide” in Russian-occupied Crimea.
Moreover, I had previously claimed that the downing of the Russian jet was not Erdoğan’s direct work. I still believe that a clique in Turkish Armed Forces took the initiative, extorting Erdoğan’s announcement of new engagement rules, which was not meant to use but to intimidate the Assad regime’s airplanes. For the last five years, Turkey has been changing its alignment in order to ensure Erdoğan’s regime will not be dependent on the west with alternative allies. Thus, concessions in favor of Russians enabled Putin to invade Georgia, unlawfully annex Crimea and now, intervene in Middle Eastern conflicts. This, in my opinion, forced the clique in Turkish army to move.
In addition, there are reasons to assume that Turkish foreign ministry and Turkish businessmen, as well as government officials, were taken by surprise. As no precautionary measures were applied, Turkey suffered greatly behind the scenes because of the consequences of the downing. This gives more reason to believe that Erdoğan did not deliberately down the plane, but was forced to. His trying to retreat and calm Russian authorities, efforts of his supporters to blame the pilot or Turkish Air Forces to acquit the government is another proof.
Turkey is being little by little forced to go back on track with its formal and natural allies. Turkey was a natural ally of the West against Russians, Israel was also a natural ally being one of the two relatively free, strong, secular, market economy countries in the region, the other being Turkey. Erdoğan’s term saw artificial developments and constrained alliances and projects, now the nature of the international affairs forcing Erdoğan to return where he came from.
However, his history as an infamous leader prevents him from renouncing his ill-resulted projects and become a western ally once again. He has gone so far that he made many enemies, has a very negative image, is considered untrustworthy by many nations. His reputation has cast shadows on the whole country to the extent of the downing of the Russian jet becoming a candidate for the best thing being done by Turkey in the last decade. It was the first serious and effective reaction against Putin’s notorious irredentism and interventionism from a NATO member country, but Erdoğan’s track record and image prevented the west from fully supporting Turkey.
To add, there is news is that Turkey and EU are negotiating Turkey’s EU membership prospects once again. Erdoğan’s “third path” vision proved useless, his supporting of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and other countries proved fruitless. Turkey is now experiencing an unspoken Gang nach Canossa, on its knees, begging forgiveness from its former allies due to Erdoğan’s incapable, ridiculous, and poor management.
Therefore, I believe that Turkey is reconciling with the West, but Erdoğan still strives to retain his power and position. He is no different than Putin and, as happened before, can quickly switch sides. Both leaders manipulate their audience thanks to massive propaganda with nationalistic and religious connotations at home, but their charisma is stained on the international stage. Had Turkey been led by another leader, the country would have been the vanguard of the free world against Putin’s imperial expansionism. Now, the EU is in turmoil due to the leaders’ focusing on self-interests, the US is war-weary, and Turkey is led by an unpredictable and deceitful President. This situation is reminiscent of harbingers of previous world wars.