Despite a solid list of differences and contradictions between Washington and Ankara (involving some regional issues related to the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the South Caucasus, anti-Russian sanctions, relations with Russia and China, Armenian, Cypriot, Kurdish and Palestinian issues, etc.), Turkey still remains an important NATO member and a military-political ally of the United States.
The dynamics of regional events in the Middle East, associated with the ongoing military conflict between Hamas and Israel, have again revealed some contradictions between the United States and Turkey. Turkish President Recep Erdogan takes the side of Hamas and supports the Palestinian liberation struggle, accusing Israel of committing war crimes (and even Arab genocide) in Gaza, calls on the ICC to prosecute Israeli Prime Minister B. Netanyahu, and publicly condemns the biased pro-Israel policy of the United States in this conflict. Ankara demonstrates a consistent policy and reasonably believes that the US-Israeli alliance leads to numerous innocent victims and massive destruction of the Palestinian enclave.
Meanwhile, Recep Erdogan not only calls for a rapid cessation of hostilities in Gaza, the exchange of all hostages, the provision of humanitarian assistance, and the prevention of the forced deportation of Palestinians from this enclave, but also proposes a fundamental mechanism for the final settlement of the Palestinian issue by recognizing a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem. Moreover, Ankara proposes to the United States and other permanent members of the UN Security Council: a) to reform the UN Security Council by expanding the number of permanent members with the mandatory inclusion of a key Islamic country (obviously, Turkey itself); b) to revive the mechanism of the mandate institution in international practice and provide Turkey with a mandate so that it can act as a security guarantor for the future Palestinian state; c) to implement the 1967 UN resolutions concerning the borders of a future independent Palestine.
Accordingly, such Turkey’s initiatives are supported by most Arab countries, Muslim and some non-Muslim countries, which indicates the growing role of Turkey in the system of regional and international relations. As for the Palestinian issue, Ankara prefers to rely on diplomatic rhetoric rather than being a part of the anti-Israeli military coalition that includes several Middle Eastern countries (for example, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen). This does not go unnoticed by the United States.
However, Washington blocks Turkish initiatives on the Palestinian issue and uses the UN Security Council permanent members’ veto right to exclude the adoption of important resolutions that have international legal force (binding) for Israel (for example, those relating to a ceasefire or recognition of Palestinian independence). The United States continues to support Israel and its right to self-defense. Although the real events in Gaza are no longer self-defense, but rather the full-scale war of aggression on the part of Tel Aviv.
The Palestinian-Israeli crisis is not the only topic in Turkish-American disagreements. Ankara continues to manipulate the Swedish issue, delaying the Turkish parliament’s vote on Sweden’s NATO membership bid, and uses this artificially created problem in its political bargaining with the United States. Before the 2023 presidential elections, Erdogan divided the topic of NATO expansion in Europe (Finland and Sweden’s NATO entries) into two parts: approval of Finland’s membership bid before the elections, and after the elections, approval of Sweden’s membership bid (perhaps as a kind of guarantee for his own security from the probable Operation Gladio and for electoral success). Since the July NATO summit in Vilnius, the newly elected Turkish president began to use the Swedish issue to obtain lucrative loans and military supplies of modernized F-16 Block70 fighter jets from the United States.
Today, some Turkish politicians and experts justify freezing of voting by deputies of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey on Sweden’s membership bid not only by concessions to the United States in terms of loans and fighter jets, but also by resolving the Palestinian-Israeli crisis. In other words, President Erdogan is pressing the United States to accept his plan for resolving the Palestinian issue by recognizing the independence of Palestine within the 1967 borders with its capital in East Jerusalem. This will be the price for recognizing Turkey as a key world player with permanent membership in the UN Security Council and granting Ankara a mandate to act as a guarantor of Palestinian security. As we can see, the flexibility of Turkish diplomacy is capable of linking different topics to achieve its goals.
In the Syrian crisis, Turkey is pursuing a more decisive anti-Kurdish policy and continues to occupy part of the northwestern territories of the Syrian Arab Republic while developing a partnership with Russia. And again, Turkey allows itself to increase tensions with the United States in relation to the Syrian Kurds, defines them as extremists and terrorists, conducts air and special operations to destroy their defensive facilities in order to squeeze them out of the areas where they live and relocate them to Turkoman territory. Turkish experts are outraged by the fact that joint military exercises between US troops and combat pro-American Kurdish formations are being held in American-occupied areas of Syria. The Turks regard such an event as a US step against the spirit of alliance with Turkey.
Turkey, largely thanks to Russia’s consent, is quite successfully participating for its ally Azerbaijan in eliminating the Karabakh issue in the South Caucasus and inducing Armenia to make further concessions regarding the re-opening of the Zangezur transport corridor for the formation of new transit communications for the logistics connection of Anatolia with the North and East. Until recently, Iran’s position was the main obstacle in this matter because Tehran has repeatedly and publicly denied the possibility of concessions to Armenia regarding the Zangezur corridor under the control of Turkey and Azerbaijan.
Iran fears the strengthening of Turkey’s Turan vector and the blocking of its northern borders. However, Russia offers Armenia the establishment of its own control over the Zangezur corridor with the help of the FSB border troops, which is reflected in the tripartite agreement dated November 9, 2020. Meanwhile, the United States, being an opponent of Russia and China, opposes the loss of Armenian jurisdiction over the Zangezur corridor in favor of a third party.
According to US State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller, Washington regularly discusses Armenian-Azerbaijani reconciliation with Turkish colleagues (including the Zangezur corridor and unblocking regional communications between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey).
The White House praised the Turkish leader’s visit to Greece and the restart of Turkish-Greek relations during recent phone calls between President Joseph Biden and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Washington hopes that the warming of relations between Ankara and Athens will have a positive impact on Turkish-Armenian relations in the future. Accordingly, Turkey’s role in accelerating the process of making peace between Baku and Yerevan serves US interests.
The US continues to view Turkey as an important ally. Recent events in the Middle East demonstrate to Washington that the United States may lose its influence in the region in a short time in the event of new losses of the support centers of regional partnership. The United States is apparently trying to restore Turkey’s interoperability with NATO, which means its involvement in modernizing the Turkish military (including pursuing the F-16 fighter jet deal). The United States hopes that Ankara will approve Sweden’s membership in NATO; in exchange, Washington can help the Turkish economy with profitable loans (including by attracting the financial capabilities of the Swedes themselves).
As for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the United States will have to pacify Tel Aviv in order to stop hostilities and begin the next (or perhaps continue endless) negotiations over Palestine with a freeze on the final decision and the provision of certain bonuses to Turkey (for example, membership in the UN Security Council or the presence of Turkish peacekeeping troops in Gaza as the beginning of a future security mandate). Thus, a new opportunity will arise to restart US-Turkish relations.
Aleksandr SVARANTS, Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor, exclusively for the internet journal “New Eastern Outlook”.