Turkey Re-emerges as Regional Power after Reconciling with Israel

Turkey PM Erdogan (center) at the UN. Illustrative. By Joshua Spurlock

Turkey is once again being treated as a crucial player in the region, as the European Union and the United States are planning high-level meetings with Turkish leaders to discuss the Syrian civil war and other concerns in the Middle East. The Hürriyet Daily News reported that the recent reconciliation efforts between Israel and Turkey has prompted the US to upgrade cooperation with Turkey.

Turkey had severely downgraded diplomatic relations with Israel following an Israeli raid on a Turkish ship trying to break the sea embargo against the Gaza Strip.

In May 2010, activists aboard the Mavi Marmara ship violently attacked the Israeli soldiers attempting to commandeer the vessel, resulting in a fight in which some of the activists were killed. In a controversial move, Israel decided last month to issue a formal apology for the incident despite its own soldiers having been attacked, in an effort to restore ties with Turkey. The Israeli apology was accepted by Turkey.

Hürriyet reported that Israel and Turkey will continue their reconciliation process this month as they now negotiate an Israeli compensation package for the families of those killed on the Mavi Marmara.

As a result of the process, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is now set to visit President Barack Obama in the US in May. Hürriyet pointed to the resolution Turkish-Israel dispute as a main reason the visit is now moving forward.

The discussion with Obama is expected to include Israeli-Turkish relations, as well as the civil war in Syria and other matters.

The US President isn’t the only world leader meeting with Erdoğan. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton visited Turkey today to meet with the Turkish Prime Minister. An EU press release quoted Ashton as saying, “Turkey is a key partner of the EU in the region, especially when dealing with difficult foreign policy challenges like the crisis in Syria.”

As a neighbor to Syria, Turkey has been caught in some of the spillover of violence from the Syrian civil war and has hosted thousands of Syrian refugees. Turkey has also demonstrated ambitions to be a regional powerbroker by attempting to connect with the Palestinians as well, including Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

But Turkey’s long-term vision reaches beyond the region. Turkey has been in talks for years about eventually joining the EU. Ashton cited that issue as well in her comments, saying she believes “this year we have a chance to build momentum on Turkey’s EU track.”

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, April 3, 2013)