Erdogan apologizes to Putin and re-normalizes ties with Israel and Egypt. What is going on?
The Middle East is filled with many interesting and unforeseen geopolitical twists and turns. For the outside observers such a fluctuant state, however engrossing it may be, makes it difficult to understand what is occurring in the Middle East, and most important of all, what is to occur in the future. Case in point, the recent actions of Turkey and its President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Generally speaking Turkey seems like a difficult country to get along with. They are constantly infringing upon and violating Greece’s air and maritime space, they had a falling out with Israel over the Mavi Marmara Gaza flotilla incident six years ago, they don’t like President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt for his vigorous crackdown on the Egyptian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and their fighter jets downed a Russian Su-24 bomber alleged to have transiently violated Turkish airspace. Such truculent behavior on the part of Erdoğan is to be expected, after all good relations with neighboring countries only impede his vision of re-establishing a new Ottoman Empire.
However, it appears that Erdoğan’s imperiousness has become mollified as of late. Just recently on June 28, it has been announced that Turkey and Israel have “signed a deal to normalize ties” between each other. In exchange for Israel paying $20 million in compensation to the families of the victims of the Mavi Marmara, Turkey has agreed not to prosecute Israeli soldiers involved in the incident. Furthermore it is reported by DEBKAfile that Turkey will also prevent Hamas from operating within its borders against Israel.
There is also talk of renormalization of ties between Turkey and Egypt.[3,2] Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım stated, “There isn’t any obstacle [in front of] improving our economic relations with Egypt. Minister-level visits may start.” Possibility of such a rapprochement between Egypt and Turkey is rather surprising, mainly due to Erdoğan’s strong support and connections to the Muslim Brotherhood. It should be remembered that one possible reason for Erdoğan’s sacking of Ahmet Davutoğlu as Prime Minister was the latter’s rather minimal resistance to the Muslim Brotherhood. Furthermore a report by Turkish intelligence was released this past week alleging that the el-Sisi’s government, on three different occasions, had met with the PKK, a Kurdish militant group currently engaged in a low grade civil war with Turkey. It is believed that the last meeting involved an agreement that the PKK would gather intelligence on members of the Muslim Brotherhood for Egypt. With all this in mind it was unexpected that Turkey would start warming relations with Egypt.
But the most surprising news of the week was the letter Erdoğan sent to Vladimir Putin, in which he effectively apologized for the downing of the Su-24. In the letter Erdoğan wrote, “I want to express once again that I share the grief of the Russian pilot’s family and send my condolences. Sorry about this.” He also expressed his desire to resolve the problems that arose from the incident in question. This is quite a gesture for Erdoğan, who is not the type to apologize or grovel to others. It looks like the Ottoman Sultan–I mean the President of Turkey–met his match in Putin.
Now we should realize that tensions between Russia and Turkey still remain. Firstly, Yıldırım clarified that the President did not actually apologize, he merely was expressing his regrets over the situation. Furthermore, the Turkish Prime minister has also stated that Turkey will not compensate Russia over the incident. However, Turkish Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın confused the compensation question when he stated, “If there is a request from the family of the late Russian pilot, this issue could be discussed.”
On the Russian side, Dmitry Peskov cautioned “One should not think it possible to normalize everything within a few days, but work in this direction will continue,” but that Putin “has expressed more than once his willingness to uphold good relations with Turkey and the Turkish people.” and “now a very important step has been made in this respect.” Konstantin Kosachev, the Chairman of Russia’s Federation Council Committee on Foreign Affairs, was rather unforgiving to Erdoğan’s apology, responding “If you follow normal sensible logic, all this should have happened immediately after the incident and even better if that incident had never have happened.” He continued, “in my opinion, to normalize these relations, a lot more should be done than just a letter of apology.”
Notwithstanding Turkey’s equivocations and Russia’s skepticism it is clear that Erdoğan’s letter is an important first step to the thawing of relations between Russia and Turkey. It is being reported that Putin will make a thank you call to Erdoğan on Wednesday. While on July 1 the Foreign Ministers of Russia and Turkey are set to me in Socchi. So the ball is rolling on the normalization of Turkish-Russian relations.
Now one may wonder what has prompted Erdoğan to adopt such a conciliatory stance with respect to Egypt, Israel and Russia, especially given his personality and past behavior. In the case of Russia, their retributory sanctions, on the import of Turkish foodstuffs and the travel of Russian tourists to Turkey, have greatly hurt the Turkish economy. It has been estimated that for the year 2016 Russian sanctions will cost the Turkish economy approximately $8 billion, which amounts roughly to 1% of Turkey’s GDP. The revenue of the Turkish tourism sector has declined year-over-year 16.5% in the first quarter of 2016 due to the Russian sanctions and the general instability that is gripping the country. Beyond economics, Turkey’s direct military intervention has been hampered following the shoot down of the Su-24. Following that incident Turkish planes no longer conduct airstrikes in northern Syria against ISIL or the PKK, instead they utilize artillery fire against these enemies. Why is this? Because the Turks are legitimately concerned that if one of their jets enters into Syria it will be shot down by a Russian fighter jet or a S-400 missile.
So it is perfectly reasonable for Turkey to want to mend relations with Russia, and given the fact that Putin is not budging from his demands needed for a reconciliation, if Erdoğan wants to ameliorate the pain his country is experiencing then he needs to swallow his pride and comply with Putin’s demnds, which apparently he has started to do. As for why Erdoğan is warming up to Egypt and Israel, according to DEBKAfile this is due to two main reasons. Firstly Turkey’s rapprochement is intended to facilitate an Israel-Sunni alliance against the common enemy of Shiite Iran, which is seen in the Middle East as being newly empowered and emboldened following the nuclear deal with the US. Secondly it also involves an economic component–the natural gas fields off of the Mediterranean coasts of Israel and Egypt. Apparently talks are in the offing between Israel and Turkey to build a natural gas pipeline to Europe.
It seems that Erdoğan’s maniacal tendencies have been tempered by the reality of natural gas revenues, improving the Turkish economy, mollifying Russia and combatting Iran. One may wonder whether this means that Erdoğan will no longer be hell bent on implementing his new Ottoman caliphate. According to Walid Shoebat one would be foolish to draw such a conclusion. In the view of Shoebat, which is based on his intimate knowledge of Islam and of his analysis of bible and Christian prophecy, Erdoğan is bidding his time, waiting for the opportune moment to form his Muslim Union (i.e. Caliphate). I agree with Shoebat, a man like Erdoğan does not recede quietly into the night when things do not go his own way and at times like these he is at his most dangerous and cunning.
 see my post Why did Erdogan get rid of his Prime Minister Davutoglu?.
 http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/06/turkey-erdogan-russian-jet-160627131324044.html , http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-russia-take-step-to-mend-ties-fm-to-go-to-russia-.aspx?pageID=238&nID=100969&NewsCatID=510
 http://presstv.ir/Detail/2016/06/28/472573/Turkey-PM-Yildirim-Russia-downed-jet-apology , http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkish-pm-rules-out-compensation-over-downed-russian-jet.aspx?pageID=238&nID=101000&NewsCatID=510