How far for Euphrates Shield?

The lay of the land in Syria has changed since the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) Turkish-backed operation on Jarablus started on Aug. 24.

To be fair, what made the Euphrates Shield operation possible was Turkey’s successful reestablishment of diplomatic dialogue. As such, it started as an operation based upon a more or less agreed to framework among the parties involved in the Syrian conflict.

As the length of the operation increases, however, the criticisms seem to be growing louder.

When one adds in the fluid situation on the ground, the nature of the combatants, the different priorities of the countries supporting the groups and other factors – particularly in the event that the operation’s objectives are widened and its duration extended – there is a great risk that Turkey might be dragged into the Syrian quagmire.

At present, officials have stated that the primary objective of the operation is to cut the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) supply lines and remove it from the border area. But it is a secret to no one that the strategic goal of the mission is to prevent the Syrian Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) from seizing this ISIL-free zone.

The straw that broke the camel’s back as far as Euphrates Shield is concerned was that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), whose backbone is the YPG, demonstrated their intention to continue marching west of the Euphrates after taking Manbij, despite U.S. guarantees to Ankara to the contrary.

The establishment of an independent Kurdish state along the border following the unification of the Jazeera and Kobane cantons with that of Afrin in the west has long been Turkey’s red line, and it’s not hard to suggest that the lessons drawn from the emergence of a Kurdish northern Iraq and distrust of the U.S. pushed Turkey to take the initiative.

The intensification in clashes between the U.S.-backed SDF and the Turkish-backed FSA will only serve to deepen the crisis with Washington that was exacerbated by the failed July 15 coup. As a matter of fact, the statements from Washington confirmed these worries. Behind the message to ISIL lies a U.S. fear that it will lose a ground force that has so far proven its capacity to fight ISIL – all the more so when a possible Raqqa offensive is just around the corner.

With Turkey back in the game as a military force this time, Washington finds itself in a tougher position, having to choose between Ankara and the Democratic Union Party (PYD). In line with this, dividing the areas of responsibility for each of the groups on the ground and keeping promises beforehand are likely to reduce the tension.

For Turkey, the critical part, in essence, will be to maintain the gains won by Euphrates Shield in the long term, without becoming ensconced in the civil war.

The Turkish-backed FSA contains radical groups with ideologies identical to ISIL, and its battlefield record is far from glorious. There is reason to doubt its future performance against ISIL, the YPG and regime forces unless the FSA is supported both in terms of quantity and quality.

On the other hand, the question of how to protect the zone cleansed of ISIL remains unclear due to NATO’s unwillingness to intervene out of concern for Russia’s reaction, as well as the lack of desire in the U.S. to alter its policies on Syria so close to the presidential election.

And as for maintaining red lines, any new cross-border operations run the risk of creating deeper problems as long as the Kurdish issue, which has acquired international dimensions, is not resolved.

In this context, the U.S. might play a constructive role by mediating a cease-fire between the Turkish government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), even though peace seems so distant today. Putting pressure on the PKK to de-escalate violence should not be that hard when Washington is able to lean on the YPG to withdraw east of the Euphrates. This, for one, would ensure the smoother functioning of the cooperation against ISIL.

The chorus of pronouncements about “maintaining territorial integrity” in Syria is not just empty talk. In this, it is important to properly recognize the message being sent to the Syrian Kurds who have declared a federation and the PKK as it intensifies its violence in Turkey on the back of the YPG’s territorial gains in Syria.

New deal on Syria?

The mind-boggling developments in Syria have been coming thick and fast.

Amid diplomatic shuttling among Turkey, Russia and Iran, for the first time on Aug. 18, Syrian regime forces bombed Hassakeh, a northeastern Syrian city, which is mainly under the control of the Syrian Kurds’ People’s Defense Units (YPG). On the second day of air campaign, the U.S. sent jets to defend their special forces who are fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as part of the coalition forces in Hassakeh.
Although there was no exchange of fire between the war jets, it was the first time that U.S. and Syrian regime forces came so close to engaging in armed conflict.

The timing of the incident brings to mind whether or not regime forces’ decision to attack Syrian Kurds might be part of an emerging deal that appears to be pulling Ankara closer to Moscow, Tehran and Damascus.
The issue of Syrian Kurds has been one of the main topics which has driven a wedge between Washington and Ankara. As it became clear that Bashar al-Assad would outlive political predictions during the grinding course of the Syrian War, Turkey began concentrating all its efforts on hindering the establishment of an independent Syrian Kurdish entity along its southern frontier.

However, developments in the field have produced a different reality, in contrast to Ankara’s expectations.
So far, Turkey has failed to convince Washington to cease cooperating with the YPG, which Turkey regards as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The train-and-equip programs to develop alternative fighting units to the Syrian Kurds ended in abject failure, as the so-called moderate Sunni fighters tended to immediately shift toward al-Qaeda and ISIL out of interest or survival instincts.  It was against this backdrop that Turkey agreed to the Manbij operation to be led by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which largely relied on Syrian Kurds, on the condition that the YPG would withdraw to the east of the Euphrates once the operation concluded. However, the SDF has announced that it will next march on al-Bab, situated to the far west of Manbij.

If regime forces continue their attacks on Syrian Kurds, it could constitute a game changer in the field. It will certainly put the fight against ISIL at jeopardy by targeting a major ally of the U.S. on the ground and dangerously paving the way for an outright clash between the U.S.-led coalition forces and the pro-Assad camp.

However, it is too early to conclude whether or not the bombing of Hassakeh took place as a result of Turkish diplomatic pressure or if the regime will resume its attacks later on. During a recent visit to Iran, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said the “PKK was no different than the YPG or PJAK,” a Kurdish group that operates in Iran. Tehran is most likely to share Turkey’s sensitivities regarding the Kurdish issue, as clashes between Kurdish militants and the Revolutionary Guards have erupted again after 20 years of calm.

However, Russia has always maintained friendly relations with the YPG’s political wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and it lobbied hard on behalf of Syrian Kurds to join the last round of the Geneva talks. The PYD operates an office in Moscow, and it is no secret that Russian air campaigns paved the way for YPG gains on the ground against ISIL and other rebels. For one thing, there is a consensus among the powers engaged in Syria War that the ultimate solution to the conflict will be political, not military. However, it is also true that military gains on the ground will determine which actors will be able to sit at the table for negotiation.

From this perspective, what has been playing out in Hassakeh reflects an intense competition among the players to raise their stakes and strengthen their hands, particularly at a time when ISIL is losing ground. Thus, it is possible to read the recent air campaign as a signal of the desire to contain the territorial expansion of Syrian Kurds. It is no secret that the PYD’s declaration of autonomy has irked the al-Assad regime. In addition to this, Hassakeh hosts the U.S.’ Rimelan airbase. It is natural that al-Assad might be trying to eliminate the U.S. presence from Syria.

Either way, developments that are likely to shape the course of war and peace in Syria deserve the utmost attention.

Will the Mavi Marmara trials be dropped after the Turkish-Israeli deal?

A deal to normalize Turkish-Israeli relations that was signed on June 28 was passed by the Turkish Parliament on Aug. 19 in the eleventh hour, just before the legislature went to recess.

After the deal signed by the Turkish and Israel delegations in June was passed by an Israeli cabinet commission, the first shipment of aid from Turkey reached Gaza last month. However, the delay in passing the agreement through parliament due to domestic political considerations has produced concern in Israel.
One of the issues that has attracted the most attention on the agreement is the fate of the legal cases opened by the families of the Mavi Marmara victims against the Israeli commandos responsible for the 2010 raid.

There is a prevailing view that the cases against the high-level Israeli military officials held responsible for the Mavi Marmara incident will automatically be dropped once the agreement passes through parliament. An official I spoke with on the Foreign Policy Commission had more to say on the subject.

According to the text of the agreement, Israel will deposit 20 million dollars in compensation in a bank account opened by the Turkish government. If they desire, the victims’ families will be able to immediately withdraw the funds. However, in that families refuse to withdraw their cases, legal proceedings will continue, with Turkey ultimately set to shoulder any consequences – not Israel.

The agreement guarantees that Israel will be exempted from all legal and criminal proceedings that have either be opened against it or could be opened against it in the future in Turkey regarding the Mavi Marmara incident.

Some 32 cases are currently in the system, the official said, noting that two of these had been concluded. The official added that the terms of the agreement did not prevent citizens from opening cases against Israel in countries other than Turkey.

On May 31, 2010, Israel attacked the Mavi Marmara ship in international waters as it was transporting aid to Gaza, killing nine Turks and one Turkish-American. Two years after the attack, criminal cases were opened against Israeli authorities in Turkey.

In May 2014, an Istanbul Court for Serious Crimes issued a red notice for then-Israeli Chief of General Staff Rav Aluf Gabriel Ashkenazi, Navy Cmdr. Eliezer Alfred Marom, intelligence chief Amos Yadin and Air Force Cmdr. Avishay Levi. Despite the passage of two years, however, the Turkish Foreign Ministry has never passed the red notice onto Interpol.

In accordance with legal procedures, now that the agreement is accepted by parliament’s general assembly, it will be presented to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğanfor approval. After it goes into force with its publication in the Official Gazette, Israel is expected to deposit the compensation funds in the aforementioned account within 25 working days.

The two countries are then to exchange ambassadors as the first step of diplomatic normalization.
The Israel Prime Minister’s Office issued an official statement welcoming the Turkish Parliament’s decision and expressed hopes for the swift implementation of the agreement.

The approval of the agreement presents an important milestone in terms of the normalization between Turkey and Israel after six years, but the question of how the pair will henceforth handle the process is equally critical and will shape the course of bilateral relations.


What happened in Armenia?

As if a contagious virus has spread across international boundaries, just two days after Turkey’s failed coup attempt, an armed group of gunmen gained control of Armenia’s police headquarters and took the chief of police hostage in what was described as an attempted coup.

The group, which dubbed itself the “Daredevils of Sassoun,” demanded the Serzh Sargsyan government step down and release “political prisoners,” including Zhirayr Sefilian, an activist and veteran military commander who is considered as a hero of the Nagorno-Karabakh War among Armenians.

Sefilian was arrested in June amid allegations of a plot to seize buildings and communications facilities. He has been particularly critical in the government’s handling of the long-running Karabakh conflict.

The two-week standoff ended when the gunmen surrendered on June 31, following a heavy government crackdown on protestors with tear gas, stun grenades and smoke bombs to disperse crowds, which killed two police officers and wounded several people on both sides.

Interestingly, just two days before the crisis, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was in Baku. During a joint press conference with his Azeri counterpart, Çavuşoğlu stated that Turkey could normalize relations with Armenia under conditions accepted by Baku and that the thaw between Ankara and Moscow could have a positive impact on resolving the Karabakh conflict.

Against this backdrop, the timing of the coup attempt in Armenia inevitably leads one to question the possible foreign links behind the crisis.

“The crisis began as a criminal act by a small, radical and fringe opposition group with little support,” says Richard Giragosian, director of Yerevan’s Regional studies Center (RSC). “However, it sparked a deeper and more divisive confrontation driven by a combination of serious discontent within the country and a sense of accumulated frustration with an unpopular government.”

According to Giragosian, there are three underlying factors behind the coup attempt. One is the growing discontent within Armenian society at widespread political corruption. Armenians have grown weary of rigged elections and the widening disparities in wealth and power that have come to divide the country.

“The crisis in this sense was not surprising and can be seen as inevitable, given the backdrop of a demonstrably deep division and pronounced polarization of Armenian politics,” argues Giragosian.

But he also suggests that the overreaction of the police that responded to the crisis with a sweeping crackdown, including reckless assaults targeting journalists and the arbitrary mass arrests of civic activists with little to no ties to the hostage takers, fueled the tension further, generating public solidarity with the gunmen.

But there is also a foreign policy dimension which, according to Giragosian, reflects itself in the new sense of insecurity and pronounced fear at concessions by Yerevan in the Karabakh conflict.

Although the hostage standoff has ended, the crisis is likely to have serious repercussions for both domestic politics and the foreign policy of the Sargsyan government.

In this context, the youth appear as an agent for change, but Giragosian advises us to closely follow the emerging new political opposition around parliamentarian Nikol Pashinyan, one of the leaders of the opposition “Civil Contract” political party, who was the only person accepted by all sides as an interlocutor during this crisis.

Pashinyan is known to be one of the most outspoken critics of the Armenian-Russian air defense system deal, which Armenia’s parliament approved on June 3. Opponents of the deal claim that transferring control over the country’s air defense system to Russia will turn Armenia into Moscow’s satellite. The four-day war around Karabakh in April this year resulted in heavy casualties on the Armenian side, and many came to criticize Moscow’s double dealing in selling arms to Azerbaijan.

In light of these developments, political change might be under way in the neighborhood, which also indicates that the resolution of the Karabakh quagmire requires a popular consensus aside from the mere reconciliation between political elites.

However, from a broader perspective, Armenia’s experience also harbors a potential lesson for Turkey at a time when it is seeking closer ties with Russia: namely, that the loss of sovereignty might be the cost of flying too close to Moscow.

Turkey’s shift of axis

In the wake of the July 15 coup attempt, Turkey’s relations with its Western partners have taken a nosedive, while the acceleration of efforts at Turkish-Russian normalization has triggered a debate about a possible shift in Turkish foreign policy.

Turkish-Russian rapprochement has gained momentum after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan extended regrets and an apology for the downing last year of a Russian plane in a letter to President Vladimir Putin.

The coup attempt provided an opportunity for the Turkish government to keep a tally of friends and foes both at home and abroad. Compared to the cautious stance of its Western allies, which was perceived as ambivalence in Ankara, Iran and Russia were among the first to offer solid support and condemn all sorts of military interventions in the early hours of unrest.The day after the coup, Putin personally called to offer condolences for the loss of soldiers and civilians in the coup attempt, and the two leaders scheduled a meeting in Moscow on Aug. 9.

Disillusion with the United States and the European Union, combined with a sense of betrayal, leads Turkey to question the significance of the Western alliance and NATO in particular, pushing Ankara closer to Russia.
But the critical question to be raised here should be whether or not jeopardizing ties with the Western allies serves Turkey’s interests at a time when it has been recovering from its not-so- precious loneliness.

Turkey and Russia, as neighbors, have a shared interest in maintaining cordial relations, which is why rapprochement efforts should be welcome.

Their economic interdependence fostered the compartmentalization of bilateral relations, insulating economic interests from political disputes. Thus, until the downing of the Russian jet, Ankara and Moscow managed to weather their policy divergences in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and the Middle East.

But the crisis last year also showed that economic interdependence worked against Turkey. Now, the wise approach would be to establish a partnership on equal terms. A shift of axis, on the contrary, means abandoning the balances between the West and the East – something that would likely increase Turkey’s vulnerability.

Although Turkey and Russia are two countries which are somewhat excluded from the European integration process, the prospects for the emergence of an axis of the excluded has limitations due to their divergent interests in the region. Take Syria, for instance: Will Turkey be able to sustain the policy of compartmentalization any longer, especially when Russian-deployed S-400 missiles loom in Latakia? Even though the government previously signaled a softening in its stance toward Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Moscow and Ankara still do not see eye to eye when it comes to either the Syrian Kurds or the moderate opposition forces on the ground.

And then there is the security cost of breaking ties with the NATO. As a result of the recent crackdown on coup plotters, the Turkish military has lost a number of personnel including those in charge of conducting military operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Facing a security deficit along its southeastern border, Turkey needs NATO support more than ever. Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu’s statement in which he emphasized Turkey’s rapprochement with Russia was not an alternative either to the NATO or the E.U came as a relief.

Since foreign policy choices will have a bearing not only on the security architecture in the region but also on the future of the domestic regime, decisions should be dominated by prudence instead of anger and frustration. It certainly makes for difficult times!

Turbulence in Turkish-US ties: The İncirlik crisis

The failed coup attempt on July 15 is the latest episode in a long history of military interventions in Turkey, which has witnessed army coups, memorandums and coup attempts in 10-year intervals throughout its history. With memories still fresh from its threatening “e-memorandum” ahead of a referendum on the presidency in 2007, it wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that we are still paying for the mistakes that were committed at the time.

Addressing the nation on a TV station via the unorthodox medium of FaceTime on July 15, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that the coup attempt was “a movement from within the army encouraged by the parallel structure.” The fact that Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen – the man referred to with the euphemism “parallel structure” – has been residing in the United States since 1999 only served to strengthen the Turkish public’s widespread view that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had a hand in the coup attempt.

With the government restoring control, tweets of “Your boys couldn’t do it this time!” – a reference to an apocryphal story that the Americans welcomed the 1980 coup with the enunciation “Our boys have done it!” – began circulating. U.S. President Barack Obama’s message that it supported Turkey’s democratically-elected government was largely dismissed after arriving late. According to daily Hürriyet’s Tolga Tanış, news that many experts in the U.S. had spoken in favor of the coup and that Erdoğan had already escaped abroad added fuel to the fire.

The tension between Ankara and Washington rose even further the day after when Labor and Social Security Minister Süleyman Soylu declared the U.S. to be behind the coup attempt.

The accusation brought a retort from Secretary of State John Kerry, who said the allegations would harm bilateral ties. Kerry also noted that Ankara had lodged no formal request for Gülen’s extradition but that the U.S. would evaluate any concrete evidence of the scholar’s involvement in the coup attempt. Despite this, the problems between the U.S. and Turkey have continued to increase amid a morass of disinformation.
Many have suggested a connection between Turkey’s temporary closure of the İncirlik Air Base to the coalition fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Gülen’s potential extradition.

Those alleging U.S. involvement in the coup attempt have highlighted the role Brig. Gen. Bekir Ercan Van and nine officers at the base played in the attempt, the fact that Van requested asylum in the U.S. before being caught, the fact that jets taking off from İncirlik participated in the bombing of Ankara and the fact that airborne fuel supply planes for the jets also took off from İncirlik. As it is, Turkey justified its temporary closure of İncirlik by noting the need to reestablish control at the base.

Despite reports of a power outage at the base, İncirlik was reopened for operations. The U.S.’ special envoy on ISIL, Brett McGurk, said the operations were continuing at full speed and that in the 24 hours after the base was reopened, seven sorties on Manbij had been conducted.

The truth of the matter is that İncirlik is not just used by the U.S. but also all NATOmembers. At the same time, it also houses nuclear weapons, and experts have highlighted the security weaknesses that could occur due to the chaos in the military administration at the base.

But for Turkey to use the base as leverage in its disagreement with the U.S. would bring it into conflict not only with Washington, but also NATO. Such a situation would severely weaken the coalition’s fight against ISIL, which has accelerated in the wake of the attacks in Istanbul and Nice, ultimately harming Turkey’s security.

The question of Gülen’s extradition, however, will doubtlessly play an important role in determining the direction of Turkish-U.S. ties. In the event that the two allies fail to reduce the tension and foster mutual trust, the delicate balances in Syria and Iraq that are serving as the foundation for attempts at collaboration could be damaged.

The tension with the U.S. and the European Union stemming from the government’s discussions about reintroducing the death penalty against the coup plotters could spill over into the matter of democracy and human rights. Even though a correction was issued later on, Kerry’s comments that “bringing back capital punishment could harm Turkey’s NATO membership” indicate that, if necessary, Washington will not shy away from playing all its cards.

Even if the U.S. does not extradite Gülen, other measures to terminate his residence in Pennsylvania, such as canceling his green card or convincing him to head to a third country, could help calm those who believe Washington was behind the coup attempt. Amid tremendous uncertainty at the present, exiting the current turbulence would greatly benefit the two allies.

Beyond the NATO summit

NATO’s summit in Warsaw last week was critical in terms of establishing guidelines for the alliance to adapt itself to the rapidly changing security environment. With its 28 members, each with different priorities and interests, it was not an easy task for NATOleaders to agree on a well-balanced defense strategy between its eastern and southern flanks. The lengthy concluding communiqué, which in many ways provided less than what Turkey expected in the fight against terrorism, at least marked the beginning of NATO’s adaptation process.

Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the subsequent instabilities in Ukraine put an end to NATO’s existential crisis and reaffirmed its traditional role of deterring Russia. However, the allies have different perspectives on how to cope with Russia’s aggression. While Eastern European states have called for an increased NATO presence in the region, countries such as Germany or the United States have been in favor of containing Russian expansion without provoking it any further.

Compared to the eastern flank, the threats emanating from the south have been too complex for NATO to deal with using its traditional toolbox. Whether or not NATO will be able to successfully address these multi-dimensional and multilateral threats, such as failed states, civil wars, jihadist terrorism and the refugee problem, is an important matter in itself. But the summit’s emphasis on the “indivisibility of security” is nevertheless a political gain. The alliance seems to have finally acknowledged that “the continuing crises and instability across the Middle East and North Africa region” have presented direct implications for its security.
Indeed, Russia appears as the most imminent threat in the communiqué released at the summit. But the flood of refugees to Europe along with mounting terrorist attacks, have diverted NATO’s attention toward Syria and Iraq and inevitably to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Unfortunately, the consciousness created among the allies over the necessity to strengthen the southern flank did not translate into concrete assurance measures such as the Very High Joint Readiness Task Force we observed on the eastern flank at the Wales Summit in 2014. What NATO is offering today instead is more preliminary steps to bolster its monitoring and intelligence-sharing capacity and develop partnerships with the countries in the region for stabilization.

The frustration of Turkish leaders is understandable since Turkey, as a country which has been fighting against terrorism on dual fronts and struggling with the refugee problem, demanded stronger NATO engagement in the region, particularly support for a no-fly zone in Syria, but it so far has had to settle for the mere deployment of Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS).

Moreover, Turkey expected NATO to embrace a broader definition of terrorism and of groups in the region so as to include the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), but the communiqué emphasized only ISIL, al-Nusra and other related groups, simply because the Democratic Union Party (PYD) remains the most effective partner on the ground for the coalition combating ISIL.

ISIL missile attacks which have targeted Kilis in southeastern Turkey in recent months demonstrated that NATO’s collective defense mechanism is not working. And avoiding an outright clash with Russia somewhat explains why NATO is not willing to put “boots on the ground” in Syria.

Instead, with the dispatch of AWACS to Turkey, which will fly over Syria and Iraq to support the coalition, NATO is hoping to increase its presence over Turkey’s borders against the terrorist threat and break the area access denial (A2/AD) created by Russiain Syria at the same time.

Surveillance units will also monitor possible border violations, work to prevent another incident between Russia and Turkey and thus reduce the possibilities of invoking Article 5, which binds members to defend other members facing attack.

Currently, in addition to Spanish missile batteries in Adana, Italian SAMP_T surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries have been deployed to Kahramanmaraş to strengthen the Syrian border against ISIL attacks, replacing the German Patriot SAMs that were withdrawn last year.

The high-mobility artillery rocket system (HIMARS) rocket launchers to be deployed by the U.S. this month will certainly contribute to the consolidation of border defense by upgrading Turkey’s offensive capabilities.

The set of decisions taken at the Warsaw Summit with regard to the southern flank may have fallen short of satisfying Turkey’s security concerns, but they might evolve into more substantial commitments over time as the seeds planted at the summit start to grow. In the meantime, maintaining political cohesion within the alliance is critical for progress.

Behind the scenes of Turkish-Israeli reconciliation deal

After six long years, Turkey and Israel have finally put pen to paper to sign an agreement normalizing their relations, with the leaders of both countries heralding the deal as a success to their respective publics. The deal, however, was made possible by both countries compromising on their red lines – at least to a certain degree.

After the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, one of Ankara’s three conditions for a resumption of relations was the lifting of the siege on Gaza. Instead of its elimination, however, Turkey settled for a mere easing of the embargo due to Israel’s security concerns. As such, Gaza-bound aid from Turkey will first be subjected to Israeli checks at the port of Ashdod before being transported to Gaza. In other words, the maritime siege remains in force.

During the advanced phase of the talks, Israel raised the issue of closing Hamas’ offices in Turkey, but it would appear that Tel Aviv has taken a step back with regard to the final agreement. Alleged to be the site in which terrorist attacks in Israel were planned, these offices will now only remain open for diplomatic purposes under guarantees from Ankara.

Meanwhile, Israel agreed to pay $20 million to the families of the 10 Turkish activists killed in the flotilla raid in return for Turkey dropping the cases against senior Israeli military officials in its country’s courts. However, cases could still be opened against Turkey in the event the state quashes individually-opened trials against Israeli military personnel, since it would be a violation of rights.

Without wasting any time, Turkey is sending its first shipment of aid – totaling 10 tons – to Gaza this Friday, July 1. With headlines proclaiming a “Holiday in Gaza,” the move is certain to assuage the unease of those upset by the deal.

The point we have reached today, however, is the exact same one Israel suggested more than six years ago before the Mavi Marmara set sail – namely, that Turkey should send any aid via Ashdod. But keeping in mind the United Nations’ admonition that Gaza will be “uninhabitable by 2020,” the fact that living conditions will be ameliorated somewhat with investments in hospitals, power plants and desalinization plants from Turkey is a political and humanitarian victory that should not be understated.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about the economic aspects of the deal, noting it would “have immense implications for the Israeli economy.” Chief among these implications are possible energy deals with Turkey, with Israel set to earn $2 billion by exporting gas through Turkey – to say nothing about the strategic aspects of such exports, such as diversifying energy resources, contributing to Europe’s energy security and acting as a counter-balance to Russia.

Naturally, too, the détente between Turkey and Israel is also likely to have positive ramifications on Turkey, Egypt and Cyprus.

And then there’s the military aspect of Turkish-Israeli ties. Reading between the lines as Netanyahu listed the deal’s economic benefits it is also possible to anticipate benefits to the Israeli economy from future military cooperation between the two countries. At the same time, however, the mutual sharing of intelligence on a military level depends on the two overcoming the mistrust that has taken root over the years.

In the interests of rectifying the mutual loss of trust, Turkey’s task will be to combat the anti-Semitism in the country that has become intertwined with anti-Israel rhetoric.

At the same time, it is important to note that any new clashes between Israel and Palestine could throw Turkish-Israel ties off kilter until there is a solution to the Palestinian issue.

The deal between Turkey and Israel is the product of an anticipated revision in Ankara’s foreign policy, and is in accordance with Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, who said “we will increase the number of our friends” as soon as he came to power.

To the north, Turkish-Russian ties also seem to be getting back on track after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sent a letter of apology to Russian President Vladimir Putin over the 2015 jet crisis, but given the economic and political ramifications the crisis has had on Turkey, one might even say it’s come late.

As all of these things were happening on June 27, we learned from Yıldırım that there would be no delay in fostering new relations with Egypt.

In building new bridges, next up might be Cyprus – or even Syria. But if one thing is certain, it’s that an ideological foreign policy is being abandoned in favor of one based on realpolitik and Turkey’s interests.

In light of this, it would be appropriate to declare that Turkey pressed the “reset” button on June 27.

New strategy required for NATO’s southern flank

The NATO Summit in Warsaw next month is critical in terms of defining the way forward for the alliance.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea and incursions into eastern Ukraine in 2014 effectively united the alliance and reactivated its traditional mission of deterring Russia.

However, NATO’s relevance regarding the threats emanating from the south is being questioned.

Historically, NATO has been an institution that has expanded its sphere of influence exclusively toward the east. Today, however, NATO’s southern flank poses a complex threat that requires multi-dimensional strategies for territorial defense, cooperative security and crisis management.

As repeated missile attacks in the southeastern Turkish province of Kilis have shown, the collective defense mechanism operating under the alliance’s fifth article – which stipulates that an attack on one member is an attack on all – no longer functions properly.

This is partly because NATO members are pursuing different priorities and hold contrasting threat perceptions when it comes to either confronting Russia or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria.
It is also true that NATO’s Cold War strategies, which were designed to confront conventional threats, fall short of deterring challenges posed by both state and non-state actors that employ hybrid warfare techniques.

In this respect, Sinan Ülgen and Can Kasapoğlu of Edam penned the recent report, “A threat based strategy for NATO’s southern flank,” in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The report, which will be presented at the Warsaw Summit next month, addresses the key threats facing NATO on the southern flank and offers policy responses.

In the analysis, the authors highlight hybrid warfare, Russia’s actions, Iran’s ballistic missile proliferation, state failure, violent extremism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction among non-state actors (including risks of biological and chemical attacks) as key threats facing NATO on its southern flank.

“There can be no all-encompassing deterrence framework that the alliance can use to develop the correct policy response. Instead, any policy approach needs to reflect the heterogeneity of the threat landscape,” said the pair.

Using a quadrant matrix, Ülgen and Kasapoğlu present a logical map of the threat topography of NATO’s southern flank. They divide threats into two categories: State actors and non-state actors. Likewise, they identify NATO’s security objectives policies under two headings – preemption and prevention – and suggest alternative policy initiatives.

Accordingly, shortening the deployment gap between the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) and the NATO Response Force (NRF), improving naval capabilities in the eastern Mediterranean and establishing a NATO Force Integration Unit in Turkey are among the policy suggestions.

As for an effective counterterrorism strategy, the report strongly advises NATO to boost intelligence sharing not only with member states but also with non-member states by strengthening partnership programs.
Although it is often an understated issue, improving situational awareness on a global scale regarding chemical and biological threats is also necessary, the report added.

The report aims to create consciousness about the complex and diverse threats facing NATO on its southern flank, bring the issue to the attention of decision-makers in NATOand convince them to take action in this respect.

There are many obstacles facing the alliance with regard to the southern flank strategy. Most pertinent is the question of how to convince 28 members to boost security in the south at the expense of deploying fewer resources to the east.

Second, is it possible to balance the eastern and southern flank strategies without provoking Russia any further?

Russia, which poses a threat in the east, has become a threat in the south as well since it militarily intervened in Syria last year. However, the same Russia has a stake in combating terrorism and is therefore considered a partner in combating ISIL in the region.

The debates at the Warsaw Summit in early July are expected to not only update and upgrade the alliance’s defense strategies, but also reform decision-making structures and increase burden-sharing among members.
If the members succeed in overcoming their differences and agree on a common, forward-looking strategy, it will be a litmus test for NATO in terms of exporting security outside its borders. And given the rise of populist politics in Europe, NATO’s standing may even help reverse the trend toward introversion.

What will Trump and Clinton offer Turkey?

Now that the primaries are over and the party conventions are just a couple of days away, it’s time to have a look at the foreign policy orientations of the two presumptive nominees – the Democrats’ Hillary Clinton and the Republicans’ Donald Trump – who offer contrasting approaches to the U.S.’ role and leadership in addressing global conflicts.

With Turkey situated at a geopolitical hotspot, the future course of American foreign policy – and thus the person who is likely to sit in the Oval Office – is critical for Ankara, which has a stake in the favorable resolution of several conflicts in the region.

Retrospectively, Turkish-American relations under the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama have gone through ups and downs over the last eight years, but went further downhill in mid-2013. Moreover, the tackling of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria and Iraq have resulted in old trust issues resurfacing between Washington and Ankara within the context of the Kurdish issue.

On top of everything, given the perceived retreat of the United States from the Middle East during Obama’s term, it is a critical question as to whether this trend will continue under the next president, who is likely to shape future alliances in the region.

In this respect, what do the two presumptive nominees offer Turkey in terms of their Middle East policies?
To begin with, Trump’s suggested ban on Muslims entering the U.S. “to prevent terrorist attacks” has attracted severe criticism from Turkish officials for fueling Islamophobia.

At the risk of hurting his real estate investments in Turkey, Trump refused to shy away from accusing Ankara of being “on the side of ISIL more or less based on oil,” referring to the allegations of oil smuggling along the border.

When asked about his views on the U.S.’ role in the Middle East, Trump seems to be critical of the U.S. undertaking much of the burden of security in the region. He criticizes regional powers for not committing enough militarily in the fight against ISIL. He even argues for charging states which host U.S. military bases for enjoying Americanprotection. In this context, he makes it clear that he is not opposed to either Russia’s presence in Syria or Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remaining in power as long as he fights ISIL.

The Iran deal, however, is awful and has to be renegotiated on better terms, according to Trump.

Interestingly, Trump questions the nuclear non-proliferation policy and sees no harm in the event that friendly states, such as Saudi Arabia, seek nuclear weapons if it will make them feel more secure.

As for the Kurds, an overly sensitive issue between Turkey and the U.S., it is important to note that Trump confused the Kurds with the Quds army of Iran during an interview – something that speaks volumes about the extent of his foreign policy expertise.

Against this backdrop, Clinton, the first woman to receive a major party’s presidential nomination, can call upon her experience in governance.

Having served as secretary of state during Obama’s first term, Clinton has indeed had a hard time distancing herself from Obama’s legacy without abandoning her policy decisions at the time.

She is known for her support for the U.S. invasion in Iraq in 2003 and the operation in Libya, and she also offered her endorsement for the Iran deal, albeit while maintaining her distrust for the regime.

Inevitably, her candidacy is perceived more or less as the preservation of the status quo. Due to her close ties with the military establishment and her liberal interventionist political standing, she is considered one of the most hawkish democratic nominees in decades. But in running against a rival such as Trump, this may turn into an advantage in terms of appealing to Republican voters wary of their ostensible nominee.

In her memoir “Hard Choices,” Clinton depicts Turkey as an important and occasionally frustrating partner.

In contrast to Trump, Clinton is in favor of strengthening alliances and global institutions. Her views on Syria especially strike a chord with Ankara, in the sense that she promotes the establishment of a no-fly zone to protect civilians in Syria, something Ankara has been seeking for years. She is also known to be in favor of arming Iraqi Kurds directly in the fight against ISIL despite Baghdad’s opposition.

Although she does not openly suggest the deployment of U.S. troops overseas, she is more pro-engagement than Obama.

According to Clinton, “if America does not lead, it leaves a vacuum – that will either cause chaos, or other countries will rush to fill the void.”

So it’s Clinton vs. chaos…Pick one!