Alp Sevimlisoy, a British-Turkish financier and hedge fund manager and Peter Woodard, a Canadian-British financial technology professional wrote an opinion piece for Israel Hayom, Israel’s most widely distributed newspaper on the Eastern Mediterranean issue. Sevimlisoy is an Advisory Board Member at Cass Business School and City University London and a geopolitical strategist and National Security expert on Turkey and NATO while Woodard has geopolitical focus on the moving parts within NATO and the potential for an expanded role within the region.
“Despite a choppy recent history, Biden and other Western leaders would be wise to reappraise their relationship with Turkey, as rapprochement and deeper links with Ankara will lead to a safer, more secure Mediterranean under the leadership of President Erdogan,” read in the opinion piece. Here is the full article published at Israel Hayom website on April 16…
FOR BIDEN AND THE WEST, IT’S ‘TAKE 2’ ON TURKEY
US President Joe Biden is reappraising much of the foreign policy legacy bequeathed to him by the former administration. Near the top of Biden’s in-tray is America’s policy in the Eastern Mediterranean. The good news is that Turkey is undergoing changes, including rewriting central planks of its consistently popular constitution, which makes this regional power an attractive asset and ally. Despite a choppy recent history, Biden and other Western leaders would be wise to reappraise their relationship with Turkey, as rapprochement and deeper links with Ankara will lead to a safer, more secure Mediterranean under the leadership of President Erdogan.
For Israel, a Turkey that reclaims its seat among the Western powers represents the return of a natural ally, and an opportunity to build on the deep historic symbiosis between the Jewish and Turkish Mediterranean peoples in a pact we name the Suleiman Alliance.
The US, UK and EU are all aware that the Eastern Mediterranean is undergoing tremendous change. These changes include the discovery of huge natural gas fields ripe for exploitation, the ongoing tragedy of Syrian civil war and the consequent refugee crisis, the expansion of Chinese influence through commercial opportunism and the projection of Russian military power both overtly and through proxy forces.
Conversely, Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, has in recent years not been perceived as the West’s most reliable ally in the region. Notably, Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system has led to US Congress sanctions, and the collapse of the sale of advanced F-35 fighters to Ankara. Western powers have been concerned both by this dalliance with non-NATO military rivals and by a perception that Turkey is embracing Islam at the cost of its historic commitment to secularism.
Rapprochement with Israel
What of Israel, America’s other significant ally in the region? From a nadir a decade ago, Turkey and Israel have experienced a form of rapprochement; most recently evidenced by intelligence sharing. Ankara’s engagement with Israel is set to continue and deepen in the coming years. Both countries are keen to reduce the risk of new non-state actors spilling over from the Syrian conflict.
Turkey’s rightist MHP party has been a steadfast ally of Israel for decades. With Iran’s militarism becoming ever more concerning to MHP’s politicians and voter base, the MHP will continue to voice within the Turkish Parliament its belief that Israeli-Turkish national security cooperation is an imperative, not an option.
Israeli–Turkish alliance: The Suleiman Alliance
Turkey and Israel represent the most natural and mutually beneficial partnership in the Eastern Mediterranean region, and a Turkish-Israeli pact would be a continuation of a historic legacy dating back centuries.
We name this partnership The Suleiman Alliance after the 16th-century sultan who built the city walls of Jerusalem and cemented legal freedoms granted to Jews fleeing expulsion from Iberia in the 15th century.
Both countries face the same major threat from Iran, which has well-resourced and actively militant militias on their borders. With the confirmation of Iran’s military nuclear capability seemingly imminent, Jerusalem and Ankara share a deep mistrust of Biden’s desire to re-establish Obama’s P5+1 nuclear accords with Tehran. If Iran is the stick, then the gas fields underneath the Eastern Mediterranean are the carrot spuring Israeli-Turkish commercial cooperation.
Israel is also keen to protect the civilian and military security of the Golan Heights region. Increasingly, both Turkish and Israeli military establishments see their security interests as being intertwined.
In the near future, The Suleiman Alliance could involve the creation of joint Israeli-Turkish bases located around and within Syria and other Mediterranean hotspots where regional security is threatened. These could be modeled on NATO joint operations FOBs (forward operating bases). This would empower the forces of both countries against threats from Iran and would enable defense contractors from both states to demonstrate their capabilities in theatres beyond their own doorstep. Further cooperation in developing greater nuclear deterrence within the alliance, to counter regional threats,§ will also be key for the shared security of both nations.
Turkey’s re-embrace of Atlanticism brings tremendous commercial opportunities. British engineers have already been instrumental in exploring the vast natural gas fields of the Eastern Mediterranean and building the engineering infrastructure necessary to exploit this resource. America’s energy giants Exxon and Ovintiv (formerly Encana Energy) are already partnered with TPAO (Turkish Petroleum) to operate these fields.
Israeli energy companies Noble Energy, Isramco, and Modiin Energy are already sniffing at opportunities for cooperation with Turkey, as are several Israeli banks who would benefit from a presence such as Bank Leumi and Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot. As Turkey finds itself increasingly required to take responsibility for securing existing trade routes across the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa, Turkey’s commercial importance to Western firms is only likely to grow in magnitude.
The new constitution and Atlanticism
Significant changes in the Turkish constitution, and Turkey’s assessment of its regional and geopolitical interests, mean the pivot towards Atlanticism is well underway. Indeed, Turkey is set to embed perpetual membership of NATO into the central core of its new constitution – the so-called “4+1 untouchable clauses.” The constitution also maps out the likely successor to current President Erdogan; former NATO general and committed Atlanticist Hulusi Akar.
Akar is a skilled administrator who carries the support of both partners in the National Alliance – the AK Party and the MHP. Turkey’s multiple Vice-Presidential system would provide Akar with a broad and stable base for government, with Vice-Presidents expected to include the current Speaker of the Turkish parliament, Mustafa Sentop, and center-leaning former Presidential candidate Muharrem Ince.
Turkey’s opposition will most likely be built around the centrist/center-left mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, Imamoglu and Yavas; politicians are shown to be highly appealing to Turkey’s fast-growing and demographically important youth.
Turkey’s Atlanticist credentials are bolstered by it being in advanced talks to become the first country outside North or South America to join the NAFTA free trade arrangement. Militarily, despite the S-400 sanctions, Turkey retains its position as a mostly self-sufficient military power able to project its conventional and drone forces right up to the borders of the Russian Federation, as recently witnessed in the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict.
Turkey’s amended constitution is evolving in part to ensure that Turkey can operate in the changing regional landscape of the Eastern Mediterranean and counterbalance the actions of other great powers. China, for example, has sought to expand its interests at the expense of the European Union through purchasing outright ownership or influential stakes in the Greek ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki.
Turkey’s new constitution will also enable greater innovation and flexibility on local issues.
Several Aegean islands adjacent to mainland Turkey are dependent on Turkey’s government or private sector for tourism, trade, and essential supplies. The old Ottoman institution of the Principality is being re-established, allowing any island to act as a quasi-state, with administrative affairs run by a near-independent local government whilst ultimate sovereignty rests in Ankara.
Turkey’s historic affinity with Azerbaijan takes Turkish influence deep within the Russian sphere of influence, and Turkey has its own leverage in North African Libya. The flexibility of Turkish constitutional innovations means that Turkey can become the regional guarantor of stability in the Aegean, the Caucuses and the Levant.
Further south, Turkey and Egypt are also strengthening ties, with intelligence and military cooperation returning to levels not seen for a decade. In March 2021, Ankara signalled the imminent announcement of an agreement with Cairo defining the boundaries of each nation’s exclusive economic zone and the natural gas reserves that lie within them.
Secularism: A stabilising influence
One other asset is Turkey’s long history as a secular, majority-Islamic nation. Secularism remains a deeply respected and central national value, and Turkish Conservatives and Liberals recognise the peace that this brings.
It’s true that increasing numbers of individual Turks are embracing Islam and choosing to take part in a life augmented with religious life and practise. To Western eyes, this may suggest a risk that Islamism might take root in Turkey. Yet Turkey’s take on Islam remains one characterised by tolerance and acceptance of modernity. As such, Turkey’s form of Islam is an attractive alternative to other more extreme or isolationist projections of Islam originating in other parts of the Islamic world.
To neighbouring Muslim nations across the region, Turkey demonstrates that it is possible to integrate into, and benefit from, global systems and institutions. Turkish Islam is highly exportable and a valuable asset for Biden’s State department as it looks to counter destabilising influences across the region.
Turkey: The near future
Turkey is acting to ensure it is constitutionally prepared for the new world emerging from this current time of chaos and change. In doing so, it will cement its position as the shield protecting NATO’s south-eastern flank.
Over time, Turkey and Israel will deepen their intelligence, military and commercial links further securing regional stability, despite the continued threat of a nuclear Iran.
The changes flowing from Ankara provide fertile ground to reset America’s relationship with this historic NATO ally. Turkey, and Turkey alone, can fill the geo-political vacuum which Russia and China are seeking to exploit.
Turkey is a growing regional power, with constitutional alignment and commitments to the West. In other words, Turkey deserves a fresh look from President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.