Rus­sia needs Turkey in the war on IS

Pakistan Observer - - INTERNATIONAL - RAGHIDA DERGHAM —Cour­tesy: AA

TURK­ISH pol­icy, whether lo­cal, re­gional, Euro­pean, or in­ter­na­tional, is pass­ing through an in­ter­est­ing phase, if not a sur­pris­ing one, re­flect­ing a tac­ti­cal change in the vi­sion and strat­egy of Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan. The man who hardly ad­mits mis­takes apol­o­gized this week to Rus­sia, and drank the poi­soned chal­ice as he bowed his head down to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin over the down­ing a Rus­sian jet sev­eral months ago.

The man who backed Ha­mas and chal­lenged the Is­raeli lead­er­ship, and en­gaged in one-up­man­ship with the Pales­tinian lead­er­ship, de­cided this week to seek rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with Is­rael and re­store ties with Tel Aviv, claim­ing that Is­rael had met Turk­ish con­di­tions, draw­ing ire both in Turkey and abroad. His pol­icy on Syria has changed a lot, and the Turk­ish pres­i­dent is no longer the spear­head of the bat­tle against his Syr­ian coun­ter­part Bashar al-As­sad, or the spear­head of the sup­port for the armed Syr­ian rebels, as he ap­pears ready to climb down from both these po­si­tions.

More­over, ISIS’s war on Turkey did not come from a vac­uum, but is the re­sult of a rad­i­cal change in Turkey’s deal­ings with fight­ers it re­port­edly al­lowed to cross into Syria via its bor­ders, be­fore it be­came a part­ner in the USled coali­tion against ISIS, open­ing its air­ports for planes to strike the rad­i­cal group in Syria and Iraq. The war be­ing waged by ISIS on Turk­ish cities is a re­tal­ia­tory war for what the group con­sid­ers the be­trayal of the Turk­ish lead­er­ship, whose back­ing ISIS as­sumed to have had.

Per­haps ISIS was in­fu­ri­ated by Ankara’s dé­tente with Is­rael and Rus­sia, its arch-en­emy. But most likely, the rad­i­cal ter­ror group had pre­pared the at­tack on Ataturk Air­port in Is­tan­bul in re­sponse to Turkey’s new align­ment on the side of the im­plicit Amer­i­can-Rus­sian agree­ment in Syria and ex­plicit agree­ment against ISIS. To­day, fol­low­ing the re­sults of the ref­er­en­dum on Bri­tain’s EU mem­ber­ship in fa­vor of Brexit, Turkey and Rus­sia are likely to gain from Euro­pean weak­ness and pos­si­bly frag­men­ta­tion af­ter Lon­don leaves the EU, each for its own rea­sons.

But clearly, the Turk­ish pres­i­dent has re­turned to the draw­ing board to re­view his poli­cies that he had boasted of and pledged not to re­verse. This re­quires a close watch on his com­ing po­si­tions, lo­cally, re­gion­ally – e.g. vis-àvis the Gulf, Iran, and Egypt – and in­ter­na­tion­ally, for ex­am­ple as re­gards restor­ing ties with Rus­sia and Is­rael.

One will also have to watch the im­pli­ca­tions for the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion rep­re­sented by the High Ne­go­ti­a­tions Com­mis­sion (HNC) and the in­ter­na­tion­ally backed Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces (SDF), which com­prise both Arab and Kur­dish fac­tions. The deal struck by Er­do­gan with Ha­mas and Is­rael were a slap in the face of the lead­er­ship of the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity rep­re­sented by Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas and Egypt and its pres­i­dent Ab­delFat­tah el-Sisi, given the di­rect Turk­ish pres­ence in Gaza along the bor­der with Egypt now and the boost it gives to the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood both in Gaza and Egypt.

Vladimir Putin has ben­e­fited from this about-face, not only be­cause he en­joyed hear­ing Er­do­gan apol­o­gize, but also be­cause he won him over in Syria

Prac­ti­cally speak­ing, the Turk­ish pres­i­dent dealt a blow to the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion ne­go­ti­a­tions in Pales­tine and to Pales­tinian na­tional unity, be­cause he af­firmed Ha­mas’s weight in the Pales­tinian arena at the ex­pense of the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity and its lead­er­ship. He en­gi­neered a truce be­tween Is­rael and Ha­mas, and an agree­ment among the three par­ties that it would be a per­ma­nent truce. The lift­ing of the block­ade will nor­mal­ize life in Gaza, into which Turkey will bring build­ing ma­te­rial and build hos­pi­tals as a pre­lude to hav­ing a per­ma­nent say in Pales­tinian af­fairs.

This is a big achieve­ment for Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, as it con­se­crates his role in Gaza and his sup­port for Ha­mas, his un­der­stand­ing with Is­rael, his sup­port for the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood, his chal­lenge against el-Sisi’s Egypt, and his as­sault on Mah­moud Ab­bas and the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity. There is no change here, but there is af­fir­ma­tion of Er­do­gan’s at­ti­tudes against the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity in sup­port of Ha­mas. Er­do­gan con­verges with Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu in the com­mon de­sire to de­stroy the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity and Pales­tinian unity, and Ha­mas stands to ben­e­fit by act­ing as the guar­an­tor of the com­mon Turk­ish-Is­raeli vi­sion.

Egypt will not be com­fort­able by this great break­through achieved by Turkey, and will see Turk­ish pres­ence in Gaza as di­rected against Egypt. What will the Egyp­tian lead­er­ship and diplo­macy do? They have started ef­forts with the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity and Is­rael but the pro­pos­als are not clear yet. Nev­er­the­less, there is no doubt the is­sue is a very se­ri­ous one for Cairo for both its Pales­tinian and Mus­lim Broth­er­hood an­gles, and it is no doubt pre­par­ing to re­spond in one way or an­other to Ankara.

Ankara made a de­marche this week with Moscow, which con­sid­ers Cairo a strate­gi­cally im­por­tant as­set in its Mid­dle East and North Africa out­look. Both Moscow and Cairo are cat­e­gor­i­cally op­posed to the rise of Is­lamists to power. Ankara adopts the op­po­site po­si­tion, be­cause Er­do­gan is the en­gi­neer of the rise of Is­lamists to power and a pro­po­nent of spread­ing the Turk­ish model of “mod­er­ate Is­lam” as the West views it.

The Rus­sian lead­er­ship may not adopt hos­tile at­ti­tudes to­ward the Turk­ish lead­er­ship for chal­leng­ing the Pales­tinian and Egyp­tian lead­er­ships in fa­vor of the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood and Ha­mas. But it will keep its gazed fixed on Egyp­tian-Turk­ish re­la­tions. For Rus­sia, Egypt is a strate­gic friend while Turkey is a strate­gic ri­val.

The Rus­sian lead­er­ship un­der­stands that Er­do­gan’s apol­ogy was out of ne­ces­sity rather than vo­li­tion. The Turk­ish pres­i­dent found him­self in a predica­ment in Syria, and de­cided he needed Rus­sia to ex­tri­cate him­self. Vladimir Putin has ben­e­fited from this about-face, not only be­cause he en­joyed hear­ing Er­do­gan apol­o­gize, but also be­cause he won him over in Syria.

Putin is fight­ing a fate­ful bat­tle in Syria. He is deter­mined not to make true the dreams of those who want him to ven­ture into a quag­mire. Putin knows he is not yet out of the woods, and thus sees a huge ad­van­tage in Er­do­gan re­con­sid­er­ing his Syria poli­cies, where he has be­come a de-facto part­ner of the US and Rus­sia in the war on ISIS, es­pe­cially af­ter the lat­ter de­cided to tar­get Turkey and its se­cu­rity and econ­omy in re­tal­i­a­tion.

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