Spy Games Between Israel and Turkey

November  22, 2021

In late October Turkish news outlets reported that fifteen individuals suspected of spying for Israel were arrested as part of a security operation. Reportedly, the suspects were spying on senior Hamas officials based in Turkey who were given Turkish citizenship, as well as some foreign students. The network allegedly relied on Palestinian and Syrian nationals living in Turkey. The allegation, not entirely far-fetched, was largely ignored by Israel.

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The Middle East Dimension of the Standoff at the Belarus-Poland Border

November 15, 2021

The standoff over migrants on NATO’s and the European Union’s eastern flank is turning into a wider political conflict. For Belarus’s EU  neighbors this is a deliberate retaliation for EU sanctions. Ukraine is reinforcing border guards to prevent any attempts by migrants to enter the country since it shares a 1084-kilometer border with Belarus. According to the Kremlin readout of a call between President Putin and Chancellor Merkel, the former supports the restoration of contacts between the EU and Belarus with a view to resolving the problem. It appears that parties most directly involved in the conflict also have domestic policy considerations in mind. Most of the initial reporting on the crisis referred to “a standoff at the EU-Belarus border”,  but this is the NATO-Belarus border as well. And Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia are now considering asking NATO to hold emergency talks under Article 4 of the treaty which says that “the Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.”

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Tough Choices for Ankara

November 8, 2021

Another operation by the Turkish Armed Forces in Syria is looming. President Erdogan gave the signal last month. Military reinforcements were sent to the border. On October 26, the Turkish parliament approved a motion extending authorization to launch cross-border operations in northern Iraq and Syria for two more years, as well as continued participation in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon. Yet, some are skeptical. Because there is no international support for such an operation.

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Presidents Biden and Erdogan Meet in Rome


November 1, 2021

A month ago, I concluded a post with the following: “Presidents Biden and Erdogan may meet in Rome, but a genuine reset in Turkish-American relations remains mission impossible in the short term. The Biden-Erdogan meeting  would focus more on containing the rising cost of our differences than give-and-take. No matter what is said publicly, and one should not expect much, it will not end mutual frustration…”

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Turkey at a Dead End

October 26, 2021

On October 19, the European Commission published its “Turkey 2021 Report”. For a first impression I took look at the “Key findings of the 2021 Report on Turkey”. The word used to characterize our democracy, civil society issues, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, social policy, media, and EU-Turkey political dialogue on foreign and security policy was “backsliding”. In the report the word was used thirty-three times. Then I checked the report for the word “progress” and saw that it was used twenty-seven times. Unfortunately, however, it was mostly preceded by words like “no”, “some”, and “limited”.

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Turkish Foreign Policy Must Restore Its Republican Settings

October 19, 2021

Afghanistan developments could only divert Turkey’s attention from Syria for a while. With the meeting on September 29 between Presidents Putin and Erdogan, and the latter’s comments signaling another  operation against the PYD/YPG, we are back to Idlib.

Since the very beginning of the Syrian conflict there have been three major challenges before a political settlement:

•          Breaking the deadlock over President Assad’s future;

•          Persuading the external/regional backers of Damascus and the opposition to give their support not only in words but also in deeds to a Syrian-owned political transition; and,

•          Securing a broad-based agreement on who is a “terrorist” and who is a “moderate”.

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The World Needs a Broad Coalition Against Terrorism

October 12, 2021

On July 8, 2021, in remarks on the drawdown of US forces in Afghanistan President Biden said:

“We went for two reasons: one, to bring Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, as I said at the time. The second reason was to eliminate al Qaeda’s capacity to deal with more attacks on the United States from that territory. We accomplished both of those objectives — period.”

On August 16, in the middle of a chaotic withdrawal he said:

“Today, the terrorist threat has metastasized well beyond Afghanistan: al Shabaab in Somalia, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Nusra in Syria, ISIS attempting to create a caliphate in Syria and Iraq and establishing affiliates in multiple countries in Africa and Asia. These threats warrant our attention and our resources.

“We’ve developed counterterrorism over-the-horizon capability that will allow us to keep our eyes firmly fixed on any direct threats to the United States in the region and to act quickly and decisively if needed.”

Finally on August 26, upon the terror attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport he declared:

“To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay…”

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Turkey’s Vicious Circle of Foreign Policy

October 5, 2021

In late September,  President Erdogan traveled to New York and addressed the UN General Assembly. He also hoped to have a face-to-face meeting with President Biden. When such a meeting failed to materialize, President Erdogan vented his pent-up frustration with Washington.

On September 29, he met with President Putin in Russia’s Black Sea city of Sochi, their first for a year and a half.

Before the meeting, the two leaders delivered remarks to the media.[i]

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The Quad Meeting

September 29, 2021

On September 15, 2021, President Biden, Prime Ministers Morrison, and Johnson announced the creation of AUKUS.  On September 24, President Biden, Prime Ministers Morrison, Modi, and Suga convened in Washington in person as “the Quad” for the first time. Before the meeting President Biden and Prime Minister Modi delivered remarks to the media.[i] These remarks, choreographed  by the former,  almost matched the family warmth displayed during Trump-Netanyahu meetings at the White House. Thus, the concluding remarks of PM Modi were, “And I am quite — I’m absolutely convinced that under your leadership, whatever we do, it will be extremely relevant for the entire world. Once again, Mr. President, let me thank you profusely for this very warm welcome.”

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Another Setback for Transatlantic Relations

September 22, 2021

In a recent post I said,  “Moscow and Peking were no doubt delighted to see the US get bogged down in Afghanistan for two decades, just as Washington was delighted to watch USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan end up in failure.  But after two disastrous experiences, history should not be allowed to repeat itself. Washington should not start enjoying what might be the negative repercussions of the Taliban victory for its two strategic competitors…

“The terrorist threat has taken deep root in the Middle East with its long-drawn-out conflicts. To stop its spreading elsewhere, major powers have no other option than working together. Presidents  Biden and Xi Jinping agreeing that competition should not veer into conflict is a positive sign.” [i] Obviously, my assessment of the readout of their call was an overstatement.

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