What a President Trump could mean for the world

After his decisive wins on “Super Tuesday,” Donald Trump’s nomination as the Republican presidential candidate is no longer a joke but a mathematical probability.

Facing the urgency of the situation, 60 prominent Republican national security experts issued an open letter, expressing their disapproval of such a controversial figure as the GOP nominee, but the message might have come too little, too late.

Hopes rely on the performance of rival candidates in the upcoming weeks, particularly in winner-take all states such as Florida and Ohio. Chances are that the party establishment may rally around another candidate – or even support a Democrat – against Trump. There is also a slight possibility of a brokered convention in case no single candidate gets the necessary number of delegates. Still, the prospects of denying Trump the majority seem increasingly unlikely.

So far, the inevitable rise of Trump in American politics has proved conventional wisdom wrong, which is why, in the event of a presidential race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Trump, a Clinton victory should not be taken for granted.

And given the global outreach of U.S. foreign policy decisions, the outcome of the presidential elections concerns us all.

As emphasized on the campaign trail, this election is really a fight for the heart and soul of the United States.

What Trump offers to cheering crowds is not simply an overturning of the policies of the previous president. His political stance on migration, freedom of religion and the prohibition of torture challenge core American values secured by the constitution. Thus, the elections will serve as a litmus test for the strength of democratic culture and institutions and define the way forward for Americans.

Regardless of whether or not Trump succeeds, the underlying factors which precipitated such strong electoral support for his unrealistic, yet equally threatening and catchy, campaign promises deserve explanation.

Contrary to popular belief, foreign policy issues do not play a crucial role in shaping electoral preferences in U.S. politics. What matters most is the economic performance of the leaders.

On the balance sheet, President Barack Obama did quite well on the economic front despite the crisis of 2008. The unemployment rate reached a seven-year low of 5 percent in October compared to 10 percent in October 2009. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) – popularly known as ObamaCare – provided 20 million Americans with healthcare coverage.

But on the dark side, the government failed to generate real wage growth. The rate of home ownership declined due to the hard times occasioned by the mortgage crisis, while student loan debts also increased steadily.

But perhaps the most serious problem facing the U.S. economy is income inequality, which is part of a global trend that signals a dead-end for capitalist growth.

Between 2009 and 2014, the top 1 percent of Americans enjoyed 27.1 percent of real income growth, whereas the bottom 99 percent experienced about 4.3 percent, which partly explains why the electorate opts for alternative figures from either the ultra-left or the ultra-right.

It is otherwise a political conundrum why a racist and Islamophobic figure such as Trump appears as the most popular GOP candidate among Muslims with 11 percent, following Democrats.

Without a doubt, Trump is a master of populist rhetoric who boasts the talent of being able to appeal to a frustrated electorate, who are angry over their perceived loss of the dominant position in American society. Relying on his business track record, Trump promises to create jobs by reversing labor offshoring, closing doors to immigrants, abolishing ACA and introducing tax cuts.

As for foreign policy, Trump vows to “make America great again” while sneering at the diplomatic caution of U.S. policymakers, saying, “The day of the chess player is over.” Instead, he promotes himself as the dealmaker who is cunning, secretive, focused and “never settles for less than he wants.”

Democracy is often reversed, as Seymour Martin Lipset, a prominent political scientist, suggests, especially when key factors that promote democracy, such as capitalism, economic growth and moderate opposition, come under attack. The global rise of authoritarian governments shows that frustrated masses turn to strong leaders and become more open to trade their freedom for economic wellbeing and security. Looking at the current debate, even the beacon of democracy may not to be immune to this trend.

At a time when the post-war liberal democratic order shows signs of falling apart, the U.S. is more crucial than ever before in terms of upholding the democratic ideals it stands for.

Let’s hope that the conventional wisdom prevails.

The Caucasus: The next battleground for Russia and Turkey?

Russia’s deployment last week of a new fleet of MIG-29 fighter jets and MI-8MT helicopters to the Erebuni Airbase in Armenia has raised concerns about Moscow’s growing military presence in the region. This could have far-reaching consequences, beyond the strategic encirclement of Turkey, for the future of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as well as broader regional security and stability.

Armenia has long enjoyed deep military ties with Russia, but the recent military buildup is perceived as an expansion of Russian dominance in the region – at a time of much talk about a new Cold War, particularly with regard to Crimea and Ukraine.

As for Turkey, the political setting has dramatically changed since its downing of a Russian jet in November 2015. For the Kremlin taking revenge, demarcating its sphere of influence along the Turkish border, and pressuring Turkey over “fraternal” Azerbaijan, all make perfect sense in this context.

Not unsurprisingly, Nagorno-Karabakh has returned to the agenda of both countries in parallel to the tension over the downed jet.

Just a day after the downing, Russian MPs proposed a bill to try anyone who denied the 1915 killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turkish forces as “genocide.” Then on Dec. 3, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu visited Baku and reiterated Turkey’s commitment to the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. “Turkey will support Azerbaijanuntil all occupied Azerbaijani lands – every single square centimeter – are returned,” he vowed.

Within a week, for the first time since the cease-fire of 1995, Azerbaijan used heavy artillery against Armenians on the Karabakh frontline. Baku accused Armenia of triggering the episode by firing mortar rounds at Azeri settlements.

Indeed, in recent months there has been a serious escalation in military clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia along the line of contact in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Russia’s recent deployment to Armenia is likely to change the balance in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in favor of Armenia. However, the devil is in the details. The Erebuni base near Gyumri is just 10 kilometers from the Turkish border, and reports say patrol flights are about to start soon along the Armenian border with Turkey.

Against this tense geopolitical backdrop, it would only take a spark to turn the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict into a new proxy war between Russia and the West. Richard Giragosian , director of the Regional Studies Center (RSC) in Yerevan, said a resumption of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan could escalate to a wider geopolitical conflict.

“Any return to war over Karabakh threatens to involve much larger regional powers, including Turkey, Russia and Iran. There is also a narrower but equally significant danger that a resumption of hostilities may directly endanger the region’s network of energy pipelines,” Giragosian said.

In the event of an outbreak of war, Giragosian suggests that not only would planned pipelines and energy projects such as the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) project be at severe risk, but existing pipelines such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline would become vulnerable to attacks by Armenian forces.

Akın Ünver, Assistant Professor of International Relations at Kadir Has University, emphasized that clashes over supply zones and transit routes are likely to elevate risks for investors and thus increase insurance costs – something that could slow down the implementation of TANAP.

When appraised in conjunction with Russian energy giant Gazprom’s recent decision to reduce gas supplies to Turkey, developments in the Caucasus display Russia’s resolve to continue making life miserable for Turkey in the neighborhood.

As the war in Syria consumes all the energy and resources of the major actors, opening another frontline between Armenia and Azerbaijan may not appear to be in anybody’s interest. But events can spiral out of control in the blink of an eye, as witnessed along the Syrian border.

Pro-active diplomacy is required immediately to de-escalate tension in the region and prevent the collapse of the shaky cease-fire between Yerevan and Baku before it is too late.

The cost of war

Turkey seems set to be dragged further into Syria’s quagmire after a heinous attack in Ankara on Feb. 17 left 28 dead and 61 wounded.

A day after the blast, the government identified the perpetrator as a member of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), an affiliate of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), while the Turkish Air Force conducted cross-border operations in northern Iraq, targeting PKK camps.

But Saleh Muslim, the co-chair of the YPG’s political wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), denied Ankara’s claims, instead accusing Turkey of seeking an excuse to attack Syrian Kurds.

Indeed, Turkey has been shelling Syrian Kurdish forces since last Saturday to deny the YPG control of Azez, a Syrian town near the Turkish border that separates the Kurdish cantons of Afrin and Kobane.

Speculation over a possible Saudi-backed Turkish intervention in Syria has risen, with Saudi planes recently arriving at İncirlik airbase.

Deputy PM Yalçın Akdoğan explained that what they wanted to create was a secure, no-conflict zone 10 kilometers inside Syria that would include Azez.

It is debatable whether or not a military incursion into Syria would help protect its red lines, yet Turkey is likely to face high military, economic and political costs in the event of a ground offensive.

International relations scholar Serhat Güvenç from Istanbul’s Kadir Has University says the cost of a military incursion would depend upon the time span and the scope of the operation. Any way you cut it, however, entering 10 kilometers into Syria is a risky endeavor for Turkey.

Especially since the downing of Russian plane in November 2015, anti-access/area-denial challenges (a2/ad) presented by Russia air defense systems have raised the stakes of launching an air campaign exponentially for Turkey. In fact, a cross-border operation without air cover could result in severe losses for Turkish troops.

Güvenç also asserts that while Turkey has a quantity advantage, Russia has the edge in quality with its SU-35s and SU-30 SMs in Latakia.

“Considering the current conditions on the ground and the respective capacity of the actors involved, conventional wisdom requires Turkey to avoid military involvement in Syria’s conflict,” Güvenç said.

Speaking of costs… What about the economic indicators?

As the fighting rages in Syria, political uncertainties have hit exchange rates, with the Turkish Lira plunging to around 3 to the dollar. Analysts largely attributed the lira’s slide last week to the escalation of geopolitical risks in Turkey

So far, the geopolitical pressure seems to be essentially under control due to favorable macro-economic indicators, but in the event of an actual operation, investments and financial markets could take a hit.

In addition, a military confrontation with Syria would deal a severe blow to tourism, which has already been suffering due to the crisis with Russia and the threat of terrorism.

As for the political costs, the United States and Europe have called on Turkey to cease its bombardment of the PYD. Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council has urged Ankara to comply with international law in Syria.

Turkey’s attempts to drive a wedge between Washington and the PYD have failed, basically because geopolitical realities on the ground render the PYD a tactical ally for the U.S. against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Besides, both the U.S. and Europe want to avoid escalating the crisis into a military conflict between NATO and Russia.

Thus, Turkey might face further isolation as long as it insists on treating the PYD, PKKand ISIL on equal terms. Worse, Turkey’s unilateral intervention could send bilateral relations with Washington to a new low.

Given that the costs of a military operation far exceed the benefits, rather than flex its muscles, Turkey requires a change in perspective and more flexible diplomacy – something that would help it better achieve its goals in the international arena.

Dimensions of polarization in Turkey

“We are living in separate worlds where party affiliation and social identities overlap. Our identities have become so politicized that differences in political perspectives have turned into social distance, causing a psychological distance as well, among members of society,” says Özgür Ünlühisarcıklı, director of the German Marshall Fund’s (GMF) office in Ankara, referring to the major findings of the “Dimensions of Polarization in Turkey,” a study recently conducted by the Corporate Social Responsibility Association and Infakto RW; sponsored by the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation, a GMF undertaking.

Professor Emre Erdoğan of Bilgi University says they weren’t expecting to see such a huge social distance among individuals holding different political views.

Erdoğan suggests that the most common indicator of social distance is neighborhood. Neighborhoods are important because they literally require the elimination of social distance among different identities who cheek by jowl.

“We usually ask people if they would like to have a neighbor with a particular political affiliation, but in this research, we went a step further. First, we asked our respondents to specify the most politically distant party to them. Then, we asked them whether they would like to have their daughters marry a person affiliated to that party, enter a business transaction, or even let their kids be friends with them.”

The results point at a high level of political partisanship in Turkish society that has become deeper and more extensive, damaging social bonds.

According to the study, 83.4 percent do not want their daughters to marry a member of the most distant party constituency. Some 78.4 percent do not want to do business with a member of the most distant party, 76 percent do not want each other as neighbors and 73.9 percent do not want their kids to be friends with such people.

The study’s findings demonstrate that we tend to live in our comfortable separate worlds and follow media channels that only reflect similar political views, facilitating the construction of opposing partisan worldviews.

It is, therefore, not surprising to see that supporters of different political parties diverge over the political issues that divide Turkey the most. To the Justice and Development Party (AKP) supporter, it is the Gezi protests, whereas the Republican People’s Party (CHP) supporter points at the corruption probe. While Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) respondents hold the 1980 coup responsible for all the ills of Turkey, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) supporter believes that it is the Kurdish problem that has divided and continues to divide Turkey the most.

Ultimately, social cleavages seem to have grown and are expected to grow further in the future.

What might be the political implications of such a politically polarized society?

“Politics turns into an existential struggle; a hard and almost apocalyptic one,” says Ünlühisarcıklı. “It is not possible to rally around issues when our national interest is at stake. If there is an existential struggle at the domestic level, you may well defend a contradictory position in line with your political affiliation even though it is against your national interest. It’s a trend which we have been observing recently.”

Erdoğan argues that each political party has an “other” which it excludes in the socio-political sphere and claims that having a wide loyal electoral base provides a political advantage for party leaders.

But the wider the social distance is, the harder it becomes to reach reconciliation.

“If you raise your walls up this high, how are you going to cooperate? How are you going to form a coalition? How are you going to establish a new constitution?” asks Erdoğan.

As for the study’s message to political leaders, Corporate Social Responsibility Association Chairman Serdar Dinler focuses on the economic dangers posed by increasing levels of polarization. “Polarization causes discrimination, which eventually damages the business sector,” says Dinler. Positive discrimination may benefit certain segments of society up to a certain point, but in the long run, institutions are likely to lose creativity and their competitive power in the international arena.

So, what’s the cure?

The keyword is dialogue. “We need to learn to say, ‘You’re right,’” suggests Erdoğan. “It might look like a simple and naïve solution, but it is not an easy task at all, especially for politicians. Politics is not necessarily black or white; we should come to see that there are shades of grey. We need to act on points on which we think the other side is right.”

Otherwise, warns Erdoğan, Turkish society could be destined for self-fulfilling solitude.

Turkey says ‘never again’ for Holocaust victims

Jan. 27 is designated by the United Nations as International Holocaust Remembrance Day and coincides with the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp by Soviet troops during World War II.

The day was marked in Ankara last week with a ceremony attended by EU Minister Volkan Bozkır, members of Turkey’s Jewish community and foreign diplomats.

It was the second time such a ceremony has been held in the capital with high-level official representation.

In contrast to then-Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çicek’s remarks last year which emphasized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this year’s focus was on forging a struggle against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia altogether, which the government considers as equal threats to peaceful coexistence and multiculturalism.

In his speech, Bozkır highlighted the worrisome trend of increasing anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia across Europe in parallel to the rise of right-wing parties. “We witness that the disease of anti-Semitism has new companions today in the form of Islamophobia and xenophobia. Doubts over multicultural society and coexistence and the rise of far-right parties raise concerns for the future. Unfortunately, we see that anti-Semitism is still prevalent in some marginal circles in our country, together with Islamophobia and xenophobia. We cannot tolerate any form of hate speech, regardless of the religion, sect or ethnicity it targets.”

Indeed, in an attempt to eliminate hate speech targeting minorities, the EU Ministry recently concluded a project called “Social Media and Minorities” under the program of the Civil Society Dialogue in cooperation with religious minority groups that comprised workshops, seminars and research to create awareness on the topic.

However, the fight against any kind of discrimination, including hate speech, is a long journey that requires a change in mindsets along with concrete legal sanctions.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, Turkey is higher than Iran when it comes to the level of anti-Semitism, with 69 percent of its population holding anti-Semitic sentiments. Again, according to the “Media Watch on Hate Speech Project” conducted by the Hrant Dink Foundation in 2014, Turkish Jews suffer the most from hate speech.

In fact, it was just last week that the wall of the recently reopened Balat Synagogue in Istanbul was targeted in a graffiti attack; a Turkish intellectual called Noam Chomsky “an old leftist Jew;” while a media outlet disclosed the fact that the spouse of a signatory of the controversial “Academics for Peace” petition was a Sephardic Jew as if it was a scandalous detail.

Nevertheless, looking at the glass as half-full, one must note that 2015 marked a watershed for Turkey’s Jewish community, owing to the government’s sincere initiatives which deserve praise, such as the commemoration of the Holocaust and the Struma Incident and the renovation and reopening of the Great Edirne Synagogue, as well as the first outdoor celebration of Hanukkah.

Thus, the ceremony held in Ankara for International Holocaust Remembrance Day is significant in many aspects. First, it conveys a message to the international community that, while a Muslim country, Turkey shares the agony of the Jewish people who perished in Nazi death camps. Particularly at a time when Turkey aims to reinvigorate its EU membership process despite facing criticism over freedom of expression, the ceremony serves to polish a democratic and pluralist image for Turkey. And amid negotiations to normalize ties with Israel, Ankara’s gestures toward its Jewish community are likely to strike a positive chord with Tel Aviv as well.

However, aside from the message to the international community, there is a more important message to the domestic audience. Given the worrisome levels of anti-Semitism in Turkish society, the attendance of government officials at a ceremony to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust sets an example for conservative segments of society.

It is important to be cognizant that anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia all stem from the same source of hatred and that the Holocaust is indeed a manifestation of how far this hatred may reach, namely total annihilation of the other.

As Turkey’s chief rabbi, İshak Haleva, said at the ceremony: “We shall all take a lesson from the Holocaust so as not to let this ever happen again!”

Political resolve fuels hope over Cyprus

Turkey has made a diplomatic jumpstart to 2016.

The settlement of dormant conflicts gained momentum with the Nov. 24, 2015, downing of a Russian jet as Turkey felt the urge to enhance its security ties with NATO and reinvigorate negotiations for EU membership while seeking ways to mend the broken ties with countries such as Israel and Egypt in order to diversify its economic markets and energy resources.

In this context, the Cyprus issue, which continues to loom over Ankara’s potential EU membership, has regained importance.

The settlement of the Cyprus conflict is crucial in terms of maintaining security in the Mediterranean during such a tumultuous period. It will also provide a healthier ground for energy cooperation between Turkey and Israel and thus contribute to Europe’s energy security.

Will peace find a chance?

Long-stalled peace talks have been reinvigorated following Mustafa Akıncı’s election as northern Cypriot president last April. Akıncı’s goodwill and faith in the reunification of Cyprus found resonance with his Greek Cypriot counterpart, Nikos Anastasiades.

The synergy between the two has even enabled them to set a timeline for the resolution of the Cyprus conflict by March. Indeed, as a result of intense negotiations, the parties have reached a common understanding on the main issues – even if they are still short a full agreement.

In this respect, the declarations made by Akıncı and Anastasiades at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week were encouraging.

While Anastasiades said 2016 could be the year to end the unacceptable status quo, Akıncı reiterated his determination to achieve a mutually acceptable solution based on a bi-zonal federation with political equality as well as European values and principles.

Amid the good news from Davos, Turkey hosted last week U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who is known for his close ties with the Greek lobby and his efforts for the resolution of Cyprus. During a joint press meeting, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu thanked Biden for visiting Cyprus in 2014 and said the U.S. would play an important role in Cyprus peace talks.

Indeed, with the wind at his back following the Iranian nuclear deal, the settlement of the Cyprus issue presents an opportunity for U.S. President Barack Obama to build on his legacy before he leaves office.

Just as diplomatic efforts over Cyprus are accelerating, Istanbul Kültür University’s Global Political Trends Center (Gpot) organized a roundtable meeting last week hosting Andros Kyprianou, general-secretary of the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL), who was scheduled to have a meeting with both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Ministry the next day.

When asked about the current state of the peace talks, Kyprianou said he remained hopeful, while underlining three focal points requiring settlement: power sharing, property rights and security.

According to Kyprianou, the sides have largely reached a consensus on how to share executive power. However, little progress has been made regarding the property rights of refugees.

The people who lost their homes have three options ahead – return, resettlement or compensation.

Kyprianou said the amounts of compensation proffered by leaders are an exaggeration, and claims that without knowing the number of people who would apply for the compensation option, it is not possible to determine the exact amount to be paid as compensation.

Since neither the Greek nor Turkish side is able to undertake the financial burden of compensation, they have both turned to third parties such as the EU and the U.S. for financial assistance – something that Kyprianou describes as the cost of peace in Cyprus.

As for the most troubling part of the negotiations, security, Kyprianou particularly emphasizes the future positions of the guarantor states.

Despite the sincere commitment of the parties, it would seem unlikely that a settlement will be reached before the Greek Cypriot parliamentary elections in May. However, shared economic and security interests in the region create a strong incentive for all parties to benefit from the resolution of the Cyprus issue.

Particularly, diplomatic resolve of the parties presents an unprecedented window of opportunity that shouldn’t go wasted.

Thus, 2016 marks a critical year for Cyprus.

Ready for an independent Kurdistan?

Masoud Barzani, the head of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), seems ever more determined to hold a referendum on independence.

While the entire region is being redesigned, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) willingness to seize the opportunity is understandable. Turkey’s response, however, will be critical, particularly as the prospects for the revival of the peace process with its own Kurds seem so dim and an ongoing insurgency threatens to spread across the country.

Since mid-2015, when Baghdad failed to pay the KRG a 17 percent share of the federal budget – prompting the KRG to export crude independently – Turkey has been the neighbor of a de facto independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq.

But a formal declaration of independence would be a giant step with ramifications for Iraq’s territorial integrity as well as the future of the Kurdish movement in the region, including Turkey’s Kurds.

Henri J. Barkey, the director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, asserts that Turkey makes a distinction between “bad Kurds” and “good Kurds,” noting that Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD), together with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), fall into the former as they present a threat to Turkey’s integrity, whereas the KRG falls into the latter as a result of growing interdependence between Ankara and Arbil.

The fact that Turkey tried to insulate bilateral relations with the KRG from developments in Syria and an insurgency at home reflects such a duality in Turkey’s approach to the region’s Kurds.

Aydın Selcen Turkey’s former consul general in Arbil, points at a  similar duality observed in Turkey’s relations, not only favoring Arbil over Baghdad but also favoring Arbil over Suleymaniye, in a way to distinguish between the main political actors in northern Iraq, namely the KDP, KYB and Goran.

In this context, Barzani’s visit to Turkey early last month marked a watershed in terms of bilateral ties regarding diplomatic symbols. For the first time, along with Iraqi and Turkish flags, a Kurdistan flag was present in the meeting room, eliciting enthusiasm in the Kurdish press and even giving rise to interpretations that it was a green light for Kurdish independence.

Even before Barzani’s visit, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan assumed a neutral position last May, saying a decision on independence was a domestic issue for Iraq.

It is true that compared to its ties with Baghdad, which is overtly under Iranian influence, Turkey boasts much more cordial relations with Arbil.

The KRG constitutes an important market for Turkish exports. Besides, about 650,000 barrels of Iraqi crude oil reaches Turkey’s Ceyhan Port every day for export to world markets.

Apart from the oil trade, huge reserves of natural gas in northern Iraq have whetted the appetite of Turkey’s energy sector, particularly at a time when relations with both Russiaand Iran, two of the main gas suppliers to Turkey, have been strained. According to Bosphorus Energy Club Chair Mehmet Öğütçü, the infrastructure to carry natural gas from the KRG to Turkey will be ready in three years and that the bid to build the Şırnak Natural Gas Pipeline is expected to be opened in February.

There is also a security dimension to bilateral ties between Ankara and Arbil. Turkey has operated a number of military bases in northern Iraq since the 1990s and Turkish military advisers have been training Kurdish Peshmerga forces against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) for over a year.

Nevertheless, interdependence does not guarantee a positive reaction from Turkey in the event of a declaration of independence. This said, possessing an unfavorable view of independence and preventing its occurrence are two different things.

With Turkey facing an autonomous Syrian Kurdistan amid the prospects of an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq, reinvigorating its own peace process will certainly strengthen Turkey’s hand vis-à-vis its own Kurds without damaging relations with Arbil.

Herald of Thaw between Turkey & Israel

Five years after the Gaza flotilla raid, Israel and Turkey have finally reached an understanding on a reconciliation agreement.

For those who have been following Turkish-Israeli relations closely, it was not a surprise. Even before the elections, there were signals of a possible thaw between the two countries.

Amidst the turmoil in the Middle East, both countries have shared interests in the region such as balancing the rise of Iran, cooperating against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and energy cooperation. Devamı…

Israel not ready to lift embargo

Last Sunday, the first public celebration of Hanukkah in the history of the Turkish Republic was staged in Ortaköy.

Within hours of the candle ceremony, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan referred to Turkish-Israeli relations, suggesting that the gesture would not be restricted to just lending a new shine to Turkey’s image in terms of respect for minorities, but that they aimed to melt the ice between the two countries.

The response to Erdoğan, who posited that a rectification of the relations of ties between Turkey and Israel would benefit the entire region, was not long in coming. Israeli Foreign Devamı…

Eni’s discovery gives ‘peace pipelines’ a chance

Last Sunday, Italian energy giant Eni announced the discovery of a massive natural gas field in the Zohr area, off the coast of northern Egypt. Heralded as the largest field so far in the Mediterranean, with an estimated reserve of 30 trillion cubic feet of gas (40 percent more than the quantity in the Leviathan), the latest discovery is likely to change energy equations by increasing competition in the region.

Egyptian daily Al-Ahram described the breakthrough as “a gift from heaven.” Indeed, it suits Egypt very well. The Abdel Fattah el-Sisi government has been struggling for a long time to meet domestic natural gas demands due to rising consumption and falling reserves. Especially in summer time, authorities have been forced to occasionally stop factories so as to provide gas for electricity for households.

Based on the estimated potential of the Zohr field, Egypt will reach self-sufficiency in less than five years, meaning that Cairo will be able to satisfy domestic demand and even return to the good old days of being a gas exporter once again. The discovery is likely to boost industrial development as well, pumping enough gas into the system to ensure a healthy functioning of the economic cycle.

In contrast to Cairo’s enthusiasm, the news sparked panic in Tel Aviv. Not only did shares of Israeli gas companies plunge dramatically, but long-term energy projects now face a serious risk because Israel’s plans, by and large, relied on Egypt both as a consumer and as a partner.

Having crossed off the pipeline option due to a freeze in bilateral relations with Turkey,Israel gave weight to liquefied natural gas projects that were, in fact, way too expensive compared to building pipelines. Last year, energy partners signed a preliminary deal to export gas from the Leviathan field to the BG group’s liquefied natural gas terminal in northern Egypt. The amount of money Egyptians agreed to pay was supposed to finance the development of the field. In a similar move, investors in another offshore field, Tamar, were planning to export a quarter of the gas to Egypt.

However, contentious debates over an anti-trust law – which required the Noble and Delek groups to sell some of their shares – impeded approval of the agreements by the Israeli government and therefore delayed the start of production. That’s why, following Eni’s announcement, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz criticized foot-dragging cabinet members such as Economy Minister Aryeh Deri with contempt, saying that “Israel has been asleep at the wheel, delaying final approval of the gas deal and additional exploration. The world is changing before our very eyes with implications for export possibilities.”

The discovery, which makes Egypt a competitor rather than a customer in the energy game, in addition to already falling gas prices that are likely to fall further once Iranenters the market, compels Israel to revise its energy plans. Faced with the increasing costs of developing the Leviathan and Tamar fields, the peace pipeline issue has gained the utmost importance once more.

Carrying Israeli gas through an under-sea pipeline to Europe via Turkey still remains the most profitable option compared to alternatives such as the Israel-Cyprus-Greece pipeline, considering the costs as well as the technical details.

Eyeing European as well as Asian markets, experts point to Jordan, Greece and Turkey as alternative buyers of Israeli gas in the short run. However, Turkey already buys gas from Iran. Besides, the two countries have to first overcome the chill in bilateral relations to foster further cooperation.

In fact, initial steps were taken in Rome two months ago, when Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold met Turkey’s then-Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu. The appointment of Sinirlioğlu, an experienced diplomat who served as ambassador to Israelbetween 2002 and 2007, as Turkey’s new foreign minister in the interim government has been interpreted as a sign of a coming thaw in Turkish-Israeli relations.

While the backdoor diplomacy to lift the Gaza blockade continues, Eni’s latest discovery presents an opportunity for Turkey and Israel to mend their broken ties and build bridges – or perhaps even pipelines.