Erdogan, Angry at NATO, Is Putting Turkey in Good Bargaining Position Ahead of London Summit

The Turkish president wants the rest of the organization’s countries to accept his invasion of Syria, but he knows it won’t happen

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Kurdish demonstrators hurl rocks at a Turkish military vehicle during a joint Turkish-Russian patrol near the town of Al-Muabbadah, Syria, November 8, 2019.
Kurdish demonstrators hurl rocks at a Turkish military vehicle during a joint Turkish-Russian patrol near the town of Al-Muabbadah, Syria, November 8, 2019.Credit: AFP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

The stage for the NATO summit that will take place in London this week was set in Turkey. In a colorful, venomous statement, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said French President Emmanuel Macron was suffering from “brain death.” Addressing Macron, he said, “You know how to show off but you cannot even properly pay for NATO. You are a novice.” He added, “Macron doesn’t know what the fight against terror is, that’s why the Yellow Jackets invaded France.”

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Erdogan’s tongue-lashing came after Macron said the Turkish invasion of Syria was a threat to NATO’s battle against the Islamic State. “What is your business in Syria?” Erdogan asked him. He also said to the French president: “Jump up and down as much as you like ... you will respect Turkey’s right to fighting against terrorism sooner or later. There is no other way.”

In early November Macron criticized NATO’s inability to formulate an agreed-on policy, describing the organization’s state as “brain-dead” because of the lack of strategic cooperation between member countries, particularly the United States and Turkey.

It will be interesting to see how the dignified gathering in London proceeds this week. There probably won’t be hugs and kisses and the renowned Turkish sweets probably won’t be on the dessert menu.

Erdogan is not only angry at France. He is demanding that all the NATO countries support the Turkish invasion into Syria, and regard it as a justified war that Turkey is waging for all of the organization’s members. In particular, he wants the NATO countries to classify the Kurdish forces as terror organizations.

Kurdish and Arab protesters protest against Turkish President Tayip Erdogan in the town of Qamishli, Syria, October 23, 2019.Credit: MUHAMMAD HAMED/ REUTERS

And he knows this won’t happen. The United States, which still has about 1,000 troops in Syria and has renewed contact with the Kurdish militias, does not intend to turn its allies into terrorists, and neither do the European members of NATO. This is not only because they share the American position that the Kurds are the most efficient fighters against ISIS, which has begun to reorganize, but also to stick a finger in Erdogan’s eye, who ignored NATO’s demand and purchased Russian S400 anti-aircraft missile systems.

If there is one issue which the European and American NATO members unequivocally agree on, it’s the concern that these defense systems will allow intelligence to leak to Russia. The only one stopping sanctions on Turkey because of this purchase is U.S. President Donald Trump, who is now up against a Congress determined not to give in to Turkey.

Turkey is showing no signs of backing down, and intends to hold a live-fire missile test as soon as the Turkish systems operators complete the training conducted by Russian instructors. Erdogan apparently wants to use heavy-duty leverage against the Europeans by trying to stop or at least delay the formulation of a defensive policy in Poland, one of the key clauses to be discussed in London. This policy will demand significant additional funding and will require the consent of all NATO members.

If the Europeans want to protect themselves from the Russian threat, let them understand and help Turkey against the Kurdish threat, he tells the leaders. If the NATO countries have money to upgrade their defenses against Russia, then they should also pay to maintain the Syrian refugees in Turkey – this will apparently be another one of Erdogan’s forced equations.

Last week, Erdogan gave the Europeans – particularly Greece and Cyprus but Israel and Egypt, too – another reason for frustration. He signed an agreement of military cooperation and a memorandum of understanding regarding the maritime economic borders between Turkey and Libya. Erdogan and the leader of the recognized government in Libya, Fayez al-Sarraj, rejected claims that the agreements were illegal, noting that they were made by two sovereign countries and two recognized governments. It’s doubtful that this definition applies to Libya, which is led by two governments, two armies and at least a few militias and two parliaments.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Fayez al-Sarraj, leader of the recognized government in Libya, pose during their meeting in Istanbul, November 27, 2019.Credit: AFP

But it isn’t that aspect of the agreements that bothers Europe. The marking of the economic territory, which has been dubbed “the blue homeland” in Turkey, will imprison Cyprus and Crete in a maritime zone economically controlled by Turkey. Turkey will be allowed to prospect for and produce oil and gas in this area, and prevent its passage from there to Europe. In fact, any pipelines from Israel, Egypt or Cyprus to Europe will require negotiations with Turkey.

None of the countries that border on the area are likely to have legal redress against these agreements, and even if the European Union decides to impose sanctions on Turkey, they will have to state why the agreements are invalid. Sanctions could only be imposed if Turkey uses force to stop the pipelines. That’s not a bad position for a country whose ties with most of the Western world are strained and which is considered an outcast by most of the Arab countries.

Erdogan is challenging not only the veteran club of NATO and the European Union. Together with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Bin Mohamad, he has initiated the establishment of a bloc of Muslim countries whose members will include Qatar, Indonesia and Pakistan. This could sound the death knell on the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which has 53 member countries. The first meeting of the new bloc is scheduled for December 19, and Saudi Arabia and Egypt will not be attending.

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