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Opportunities and Risks Ahead for Turkey

Now is the time for Ankara to take some corrective domestic and foreign policy measures consistent with what the country has and continues to aspire for but fails to realize.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Turkey's leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan misinterprets a literary reference to suggest Muslims in Americas pre-Columbus.
Photo Credit: EPA

Turkey is also in conflict with the two countries it once acted between as a mediator — Syria and Israel. Erdogan’s government has finally lost hope in the Assad regime, and joined its allies in imposing sanctions against it, but refrained from taking any decisive measure of its own, fearing Moscow’s wrath. Given the deep animosity and factionalism, the recent agreement between Washington and Moscow to arrange for a conference between the rebels and the Assad government in an effort to end the bloody conflict is not likely to succeed.

But since Turkey will be affected perhaps the most, regardless of the outcome of this conference, it is time for Erdogan to shed its concerns about Russia and persuade the U.S. to plan on supplying the rebels with the weapons desperately needed to tip the balance in their favor and bring a quicker end to the slaughter of civilians. On the Israeli front, Turkey must put behind its conflict with Israel over the sad Mavi Marmara incident in May 2010 that ended with the killing of nine Turks by Israeli commandos aboard the ship.

Israel should have apologized immediately after the incident for the tragic deaths of the Turks, but Israel’s refusal should not have prompted Turkey to downgrade its diplomatic relations with Israel to the lowest level, which clearly did not serve Turkey’s long-term strategic interests.

Now that Israel has apologized, however, Turkey should move quickly to restore full diplomatic relations with Israel and certainly not make it contingent upon the removal of the blockade of Gaza.

Turkey must spare no effort to demonstrate evenhandedness in dealing with Hamas and Israel. Erdogan’s pending visit to Gaza offers a momentous opportunity to persuade Hamas to permanently forsake violence in favor of a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Only then would lifting the blockade become a real possibility, provided it is done to the full satisfaction of Israel’s national security concerns. In addition, Erdogan must also use his considerable influence to wean Hamas off of Tehran, which will over time make it more palatable for Israel to deal with Hamas.

To improve the chances of reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, Erdogan must not skip the West Bank and meet with Mahmoud Abbas during his visit to the area if he really wishes to play a constructive role.

Finally, Turkey should recognize that its ultimate successes and its efforts to mitigate Russia’s coercive regional policies depend on the strength of its alliance with the United States and on its ability to continue to serve as a positive bridge between East and West.

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the founding of the modern Republic of Turkey by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923. In celebrating the birth of the new republic, there is no better time to take a deeper look at what has taken place since then, especially during the past ten years.

I believe that Turkey is a country that has the potential of becoming a significant global player, but, like any other power, it must also learn its limits.

Turkey’s current rise to prominence was possible because of its promise and implementation of many political, economic and social reforms. These initial successes, however, are not self-perpetuating and must continuously be nurtured.

Only then will Turkey live up to the promise of being the leading Islamic democracy it has set out to be, or it will lose a historic chance to become that kind of a model, especially in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Originally published at The American Thinker.

About the Author: Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. alon@alonben-meir.com Web: www.alonben-meir.com.


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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Now is the time for Ankara to take some corrective domestic and foreign policy measures consistent with what the country has and continues to aspire for but fails to realize.

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