After decades of passivity, Turkey has suddenly found itself standing right at the center of the crossroads of Eurasia and had sig-nificantly restructured its foreign policy to become an important dip-lomatic actor in the Middle East. Recently there has been a debate both inside and outside Turkey as to whether its Eurasia policy is changing and if so, in what direction. In particular, the importance of the Middle Eastern direction has been reviewed and is now one of its priorities. The Foreign Ministry was instructed to improve relations with the Arab states and Iran, while at the same time conserving allied relations with Israel on quite a cool level.
The government of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) that came to power in 2002 restructured the hierarchy of the basic direction of Turkish foreign policy, which had been built up during the last 50 years; and has established close ties with Iran and Syria, with which it had tense relations during the 1980s and 1990s; adopted a more active approach toward the Palestinians’ grievances; and im-proved relations with the Arab world more broadly.
Turkey now is strengthening its ties with Syria, its foe for the last two decades, while its relations with strategic ally Israel seem to be souring.
At the same time, Turkey’s ties to the West have deteriorated. Its path to European Union membership has been blocked by disagree-ments with Brussels over Cyprus and over stalled political and eco-nomic reforms in Turkey. In addition, Turkey’s relations with the United States have become increasingly strained, largely because of the US invasion of Iraq, US Kurdish policy and the American arms in the hands of the Kurdish-separatist, terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Concerning Israel, the relationship is strained. Israeli-Turkish re-lations have gone through a difficult period recently, especially after the air raid on Syria.
In so many ways Israel and Turkey are in the same boat. They are non-Arab Middle Eastern powers and relatively powerful non-Christian neighbors of the EU, with a complicated network of troubled historical, cultural and political ties to the peoples of Europe.
The two countries shared a similar strategic vision of the region and thus cooperated in the 1990s, although even then it was clear that their interests differed to a large extent in Iraq and Syria.
The serious crisis in the Middle East in summer 2006, which es-calated to the point of armed confrontation, gave Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his supporters another opportunity to try to realize their old theoretical calculations regarding the projected sharp increase of Turkey’s role and importance in this strategic world region. To achieve that goal, a model of “active diplomacy” was chosen. The model was worked out in early 1990s by President Turgut Özal to establish Turkey’s dominant role in the Turkic republics of the Soviet Union.
Turkey will have the opportunity to take on a mediating role both in the Middle East conflict and in the controversial relations between some Middle-Eastern countries and the West. Therefore, Turkey will become a key state in the region, which will enhance its significance for the European Union and accelerate the process of Turkey’s accession to that organization.
Similar concerns continue to drive Turkey’s foreign policy toward the region and affect its relations there in the aftermath of the 2003 Iraq War. The potential for disintegration of Iraq — and particularly, but not only the emergence of an irredentist Kurdish state — is considered a major threat to Turkey. Turkey’s policy is thus geared toward preventing this development, including a change in the status of oil-rich, multi-ethnic Kirkuk in the new political landscape of Iraq. There are of course other factors that affect the overall policy and position of particular foreign policy actors. These may include: domestic policy concerns of the AK Party, genuine interest and concern about the Pal-estinians, Turkey’s interest in emerging as a soft power in the region, particularly as a model for political and economic transformation in the Middle East, and the effects of harmonization with the EU — not necessarily in this order. Yet the crux of the policy is Iraq, Syria and Iran.
Turkey’s recent focus on the Middle East, however, does not mean that Turkey is about to turn its back on the West. Turkey’s new activism is a response to structural changes in its security environ-ment since the end of the Cold War. And if managed properly, Turkey can solidify its position in the center of the crossroads to Eurasia, as a two-way bridge from the Western world to the Middle East.