Hard Turkey

JERUSALEM – The recent surge in Turkey’s military actions against the Kurds in northern Iraq is an indication that, somewhat surprisingly – but not entirely unpredictably – Turkish foreign policy has undergone a 180-degree turn in less than two years. The Turkish offensive is also an indication that these changes go beyond the current tensions between Turkey and Israel, which are just one facet of much deeper trends.

Just a couple of years ago, after the European Union slammed the door in Turkey’s face (despite some significant military and penal reforms by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government), Turkey re-oriented its policy away from Europe towards its immediate region. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s “zero conflicts with neighbors” approach gave this re-orientation its strategic and theoretical foundation.

Opening an impressive new page, Turkey reached out to Armenia; softened its position on Cyprus; tried to draw Iran into a positive dialogue with the West; convinced Syria to settle the two countries’ simmering border dispute; and, as a crowning achievement, launched peace talks between Syria and Israel under Turkish mediation.

Yet these good-neighborhood policies did not work out as intended. Rapprochement with Armenia stalled; no significant progress was made on Cyprus, especially after a less-accommodating leader was elected in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (an entity that only Turkey recognizes); the opening to Iran did not soften the mullahs’ position on nuclear development (and strained relations with the United States); the Syria-Israel talks failed; and Turkey’s participation in the 2010 flotilla to Gaza, and Israel’s brutal response to it, signaled an end to decades of close Israeli-Turkish cooperation.