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What is behind Turkey’s charm offensive

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures while delivering a speech
Image Credit: AP

Suddenly, the vitriolic rhetoric against Israel and Egypt from Turkey’s top officials and advisers has recently been replaced by overtures of conciliation. But what prompted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to offer an olive branch to the two nations he decried as real enemies?

In short, the decreasing number of turkey friends on the regional and global stage.

Due to Turkey’s constant interventions in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East (from the Libyan civil war to the Qatar crisis), the affected countries have decided to unite in an effort to counter this aggressiveness.

These efforts manifested themselves at the Philia Forum and the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum to the chagrin of an increasingly isolated Turkey.

And how is Turkey seeking to remedy this? Through a charm offensive directed mainly at these actors: Israel, Egypt, the EU, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Turkey’s goals

And what does Turkey aspire to? In short, three interrelated objectives:

a) Trying to dislodge the coalition and prevent the deepening of cooperation in the fields of security and energy between its member states

b) Courting the increasingly cold Biden administration through a process of reconciliation with the traditional American partners in the region (Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia).

c) Preserve the fragile tension with the EU and avoid any economic sanctions

Turkey’s senior officials have optimistically claimed that the traumatized relations with those countries could and would be normalized within weeks or months.

The Ankara Normalization Story

However, reality suggests otherwise. The countries mentioned above have not succumbed to Turkey’s persistent court. Why? In short: mistrust a deep mistrust of an increasingly interventionist Erdogan. In fact, the above states have recently adopted policies that run counter to Ankara’s normalization discourse.

The United States has imposed sanctions on Ankara over the S-400 conundrum and even denigrated civil rights violations in Turkey. President Biden even went so far as to recognize the Armenian genocide of April 24.

Israel recently signed a defense agreement with Greece and is currently participating in Exercise Iniochos 2021 in Greece. Likewise, Saudi Arabia recently signed a security cooperation agreement with Greece and recently conducted joint military exercises with Greece.

Finally, Cairo issued a long list of demands on Turkey ranging from the withdrawal of Turkish military forces from western Libya to non-interference in the internal affairs of Egypt. Even the EU, which has long appeased Turkey, was forced to reconsider its policy towards Ankara after the SofaGate scandal.

In other words, the turkey charm offensive has yet to deliver the desired results. And under the current circumstances, Turkey could (at best) aim for de-escalation in multiple crises with the aforementioned actors not full normalization.

Dr Spyridon Plakoudas is Assistant Professor of Homeland Security at Rabdan Academy, Abu Dhabi

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