To woo Washington, Erdogan will sell out Palestine

After Ankara and Washington successfully swapped Sweden’s NATO accession for an F-16 fighter jet deal, Turkiye is focused on accelerating that rapprochement and is willing to sweep divisive issues – like genocide in Gaza – under the rug.

On 7–8 March, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan and Intelligence Chief Ibrahim Kalin visited Washington. The trip garnered attention as it marked Turkiye’s first official visit to the US following the conclusion of the ‘Sweden for F-16’ deal, whereby Ankara accepted Stockholm’s accession to NATO in exchange for US Congressional approval of the sale of 40 F-16s to Turkiye.

During the visit, the two Turkish officials met with their US counterparts Antony Blinken and William Burns, along with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, and their respective foreign ministers chaired the seventh meeting of the US–Turkiye Strategic Mechanism.

US–Turkish rapprochement

The thaw in US–Turkish relations has been palpable, as noted by Jeff Flake, the US Ambassador to Ankara, during a televised interview: “Especially in recent months, the two countries have developed shared areas. We observe improvements in defense, trade, and interpersonal relations.”

A closer examination of the joint statement released following the meeting illustrates the transition of Turkish–American relations into a more favorable and cooperative phase.

Established in 2021 and inaugurated on 4 April 2021 amidst escalating discord between Turkiye and the US, the strategic mechanism was conceived to address and improve the strained bilateral relations.

The joint statement issued by the Strategic Mechanism this month included several crucial points, each carrying significant implications:

Both parties addressed the ongoing war in Ukraine, condemning Russia’s actions as ‘unacceptable’ while emphasizing the importance of upholding Ukraine’s unity and sovereignty. However, it is worth noting that Ankara’s endorsement of the statement’s rhetoric aligns more closely with Kiev’s perspective, a deviation from Turkiye’s previous neutral stance. This marked shift will undermine President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s aspirations to mediate the conflict impartially.

Playing to the audience

On Israel’s brutal military assault in Gaza, the statement merely referred to an “ongoing crisis” and “underlined the importance of finding a path towards ending the conflict and addressing the humanitarian crisis immediately.” This is a war that Erdogan has, on the record, framed as a “genocide” and called its aggressors in Tel Aviv “war criminals.”

While both parties expressed support for the “two-state solution” as an end goal to the war, the statement’s release coincided with a fiery speech by Erdogan in Istanbul in which he attacked Israel, calling it “the Nazis of our time.” The contrast between the two statements is a real-time reflection of how Turkiye addresses its different target audiences.

On the issue of combatting terrorism, the statement endorses joint US–Turkish efforts against organizations like the PKK, ISIS, and Al-Qaeda across regions spanning from Africa to Central Asia. They also recommitted to counterterrorism consultations and discussions on the Syria file, including the adherence to UN Resolution 2254 and supporting a “Syrian-led, Syrian-owned political process.”

The two parties addressed a multitude of regional issues in West Asia and Africa in alignment with the broader US strategy outlined by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, which focuses on partnership-building, deterrence, diplomacy, regional integration, and “democracy promotion” in these geographies.

This includes cooperation in military industry, energy, and trade development, reflecting the existing $30 billion trade volume between Washington and Ankara.

Significantly, the parties discussed leveraging financing opportunities under the Global Infrastructure and Investment Partnership – a western initiative intended to rival China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This partnership includes the controversial India–Middle East–Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), aimed at enhancing regional connectivity and economic development very much to the benefit of Israel.

New Turkish military action in Syria and Iraq?

As the municipal elections in Turkiye draw near – with Erdogan seeking to reclaim his Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) control of Istanbul and Ankara after notable previous losses – there’s a tangible resurgence in Turkish rhetoric advocating for military action in northern Syria and Iraq.

According to reports from the Turkish news agency T24, the Turkish armed forces are gearing up for an operation against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) inside its neighboring states following local elections on 31 March.

After a 4 March cabinet meeting, Erdogan spoke of Turkiye’s readiness for a comprehensive operation against the Kurdish separatist groups and reiterated Ankara’s objective of establishing a security corridor spanning 30 to 40 kilometers along the Turkish–Syrian border.

Although the military rhetoric is undoubtedly influenced by Erdogan’s bid to attract nationalist voters in the upcoming elections, it is also connected to the recent Turkish–Iraqi diplomatic breakthrough following a high-level Turkish delegation’s visit to Baghdad.

The meeting in the Iraqi capital led to a security deal in which both countries committed to take action against the PKK. A joint statement read:

Both sides stressed that the PKK organization represents a security threat to both Turkiye and Iraq, and it is certain that the presence of the organization on Iraqi territory represents a violation of the Iraqi constitution … Turkiye welcomed the decision taken by the Iraqi National Security Council to list the PKK as a banned organization in Iraq. The two sides consulted on the measures that must be taken against the organization and its banned extensions [PKK’s alleged offshoots] that target Turkiye from within Iraq’s territory.

Fidan’s senior adviser, Nuh Yilmaz, praised the move, saying, “Turkiye and Iraq decided for the first time to fight jointly against PKK terrorism.” In a post on platform X, he added: “A decision that will mark a turning point! We will see results gradually!”

Strategic interests come first

According to a well-informed Turkish source:

Turkey’s main purpose is very clear. The presence of the PKK in Metina and Gara [in northern Iraq] has the potential to seriously threaten the Iraq Development Road Project … We both would like to remove PKK from these two areas as well as secure the area for the construction of the project, reaching both objectives in one step.

Ankara and Baghdad seek to counter any threat to this development road project, a land corridor linking the port of Faw in Basra to the Turkish border and from there to Europe.

In this context, Erdogan is expected to visit Baghdad for the first time since 2012, where, some speculate, he will try to conclude a border control security agreement with the Iraqi government and seek to convince Baghdad to support future Turkish military operations against the PKK.

Despite Turkiye and Erdogan’s vocal criticism of Israeli atrocities in Gaza, recent interactions between Ankara and Washington indicate a pragmatic approach in their dealings, through which Turkiye hopes to be reinstated as an important US strategic partner.

While the Turkish president is stepping up anti-Zionist rhetoric on his domestic front, his administration maintains substantial economic ties with Israel, exporting various vital goods and services to the occupation state.

Although a Washington–Ankara rapprochement is still in its nascent stage, recent developments reveal the old allies are on a positive trajectory to repair bilateral relations after a period of strained diplomatic ties.

Erdogan’s foreign policy approach – as exemplified by his rhetorical Gaza stance and material support for Israel – makes clear Turkiye’s shift toward prioritizing strategic interests over ideological ones.

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