In February, 2014, Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, during an interview with Al Jazeera, repeated Turkey’s three preconditions for normalization of relations with Israel: i) the Israeli apology, ii) Israel had to pay for reparations, and iii) the Gaza embargo has to be lifted. Elaborating on the latter he said that “all kinds of aid to go unhindered from Turkey to Palestine.”
Erdoğan, acknowledged the steps that had been taken by Israel through its apology and the negotiations for the reparations payment. However, he did emphasize that the issue of the Gaza embargo is still pending and that normalization of relations without this component will not work. Continue reading →
To offer analysis on an on-going political event is always a challenging task. Yet, the “Arab Spring” has given rise to many questions about the past, the present and the future of the Arab world and the Middle East more generally. The Arab Spring, Democracy and Security: Domestic and International Ramifications addresses some of these questions. The chapters of this edited volume have been written by selected Israeli scholars focusing on “issues such as democratization, the role of economic factors in political change and explanations for variations in regime stability in the Middle East.” The relationship between internal and external politics is also explored while special emphasis is given to the impact of the “Arab Spring” on Israel and its neighbourhood.
Something is definitely happening at the geopolitical intersection of the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean. Rapid, crucial, and very much interlinked, developments at the same juncture cannot be coincidences. Here is some of the developments and their geopolitical impact, although only time can reveal the true and complete pattern.
In Turkey, apart from the discussion about the new constitution, the country is going through an historic period as the decades-long conflict between the state and the Kurdish separatist movement, led by the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), seems to be coming to an end. The imprisoned Kurdish leader has called for a ceasefireand ordered the Kurdish fighters to withdraw from Turkish soil.
From the 1980s onwards the Turkish-Israeli relations started improving gradually. The year 1996 in particular was a milestone as the two countries signed a series of agreements of military cooperation and training, among others. The agreements were of outmost strategic significance as they gave rise to a pro-Western strategic axis which had a serious impact on the regional balances of power.
From Friends to Foes
The election of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to power of the Turkish state in 2002 had a gradually negative influence on the relations between Turkey and Israel for two main reasons. The first reason was the systemic changes that occurred in the region after 9/11 and the American invasion in Iraq (2003). The second reason was the AKP’s ideology which is positioned somewhere in between political Islam and democratic ideals even though the party itself denies any relationship to political Islam and declares that it is a “conservative-democratic” party. As far as the first reason is concerned, after 2001 Turkey had to manage a geopolitical environment which was particularly unstable both for its own and Western interests; this created the necessity for a closer relationship with the Arab/Muslim world. In terms of the second reason, the ideology of the AKP and the “Davutoğlu doctrine” (i.e. Turkey’s foreign policy doctrine based on the writings and approach of its Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlou) called for improved relations with the Middle East and distance from the West and Israel. The AKP’s approach toward the Arab/Muslim world and its anti-Western stance gained even greater momentum after 2006. That was when the European Union disappointed Ankara regarding its prospects for accession, while the friction between Turkey and Washington about Iraq – which includes the dimension of the Kurdish issue – continued.
This article is overreaching and it does so because it accepts one axiom: the only politics that matters is the politics that happens “under the table”. While this does not refer to conspiracy theories it does imply that most people do not know most of the things that shape the socio-political and economic realities of our world. Therefore when a political situation unfolds, depending on the broader context, one has to try to look at the bigger picture; in other words, try to think “outside the box”, if they would like to decode what the reality might be.
Having said that, strategic thinking could help us find unconventional solutions to problems as well as better understand real situations. One of the greatest strategists of the 20th century, Basil Liddell Hart, argued that the more indirect the strategy, the shorter the way to the end, and the more decisive the results. Looking at the unfolding events in Gaza through this prism, even though Israel’s approach may be indirect in tactical terms, as it is based on artillery and airstrikes for now, the ‘indirect’ here does not refer to Israel’s operations in Gaza but to the role these operations play in a possible greater ‘indirect’ strategic plan of the West. This means that, at this juncture, we are looking at the Middle East as a chessboard whereon western and non-western powers clash, and pawns (of different value) such as Israel, Hamas, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Russia, the US and others have a role in the moves that lie ahead. Within this framework there are two questions to be answered: 1) what is the grand strategic aim of the West? Put simply, what is the geopolitical end-game that the West aspires to – in the Middle East? And 2) what micro-strategies/tactics (including ‘indirect approaches’) will be employed in order for this aim to be achieved? Lastly, there is one simple question that triggers and drives the whole discussion: why Gaza, and why now?
Since the U.S. is still the world’s sole superpower, its participation in international conventions is very important for both itself and the better function and implementation of the various International Legal Frameworks. As such, a possible future ratification of the [Law of the Sea] Convention by the U.S. would have broad politico-legal implications for other states and areas in the world, where the Treaty has not been signed or ratified and maritime disputes are in place. One such region is the Eastern Mediterranean. This paper firstly looks at the development of the Law of the Sea, the contested provisions of UNCLOS III in the Eastern Mediterranean disputes, and then focuses specifically on Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, and Israel, with regard not only to traditional maritime territorial disputes but also recent developments in the bilateral relations of these countries and in the region, more generally. The analysis concludes with the obstacles that the American politics pose to the ratification of UNICLOS III by the US.
It has become obvious that in the Eastern Mediterranean a new politico-economic, and in an important degree, strategic, axis is developing, consisting of Israel, Cyprus, and Greece. This cooperation has not come as a surprise for those who follow the geopolitical developments of the last years in the region. It is the product of various factors and developments that have taken place on different levels. Yet, the most significant factors that have led to the creation of this cooperation (and for many, alliance) are the gradual changes in Turkish foreign policy, mainly since 2002, which have led to the deterioration of the Turkish-Israeli relations, as well as the discovery of hydrocarbons in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Cyprus, in conjunction with the efforts of the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) to delimitate its EEZ with other states of the Eastern Mediterranean. The Turkish-Israeli relations took a turn for the worst in May 2010, with the “Gaza Flotilla incident”, where Israeli commandos killed eight Turkish and one Turkish-american activist during a raid on the “Mavi Marmara” ship that was carrying humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip. Regarding the case of Cyprus and the natural gas, the tensions escalated when Turkey, since the summer and autumn of 2011, threatened the RoC both verbally and by mobilizing warships, in order to achieve the interruption of its efforts for drillings in “Block 12”, in the southeast of the Island.