Turkey’s charm offensive: Beware of Islamists bearing gifts – analysis

What else does Erdoğan think he can win from the West by his hoax charm offensive?

By Burak Bekdil, Gatestone Institute

Few people could imagine that on a cold March day in Turkey’s capital, Ankara, the presidential corps, after more than a decade of hostility to its neighbor Israel, would welcome Israeli President Isaac Herzog by playing Israel’s national anthem, Hatikva, with two presidential guards holding Turkish and Israeli flags on horseback.

Pundits were quick to talk about a “reset in relations,” or a “historic visit.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he now intends to host Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Ankara.

Shortly after Herzog visited Ankara, Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Dönmez met with his Israeli counterpart, Karin Elharrar on the sidelines of the International Energy Agency conference in Paris. Dönmez said he hopes to travel to Israel in April to discuss possible Israeli-Turkish cooperation on a gas pipeline.

Next move. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Turkey has said that it supports Ukraine’s territorial integrity, that the invasion was “unacceptable,” and that it was “siding with Ukraine.

Then there was what turned out to be a myth about the success of Turkish drones used by the Ukrainian army in inflicting “huge” damage on the invading Russian columns.

Drones, regardless of their capabilities, cannot be game-changers in a conflict with such vastly asymmetrical military might. The West must send jets, tanks, anti-aircraft, anti-armor and anti-ship missiles, and other weapons to Ukraine to repel Russia’s Chinese-backed aggression — fast — or the U.S. and Europe will soon find themselves enmeshed in wars even messier to fight.

Hoping no one will notice the hoax?

Nice words, “drones.” Nice propaganda. And, finally — while Turkey was playing as if Erdoğan were the pro-Western pivotal player in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict — Erdoğan wanted to abuse the European Union’s suspension of accession talks with Turkey.

Europe’s blockade of accession talks with Turkey is realistic, is due to Turkey’s increasing authoritarianism in recent years, the death of the rule of law in the country, its swelling democratic deficit and, most recently, Erdoğan’s refusal to comply with rulings from the European Court of Human Rights.

Nevertheless, Erdoğan said, “We expect the EU to open quickly the chapters of the membership negotiations and to start negotiations on a customs union without yielding to cynical calculations.”

What else does Erdoğan — who is and always has been ideologically anti-Western — think he can win from the West by his hoax charm offensive? Well, he immediately called on NATO allies to lift sanctions on Ankara’s defense industry, saying it is in the alliance’s “joint interests… to remove restrictions that have been put on our defense industry by some of the allies… I shared my expectations with the leaders. Veiled or open embargoes shouldn’t even be a topic among the allies.”

He seems to be hoping that no one will notice that his entire performance is a hoax. Are the U.S. and Europe looking the other way just because Turkey is being helpful with Afghanistan and Ukraine?

Reality check

Erdoğan seems to think that just because the madman of Russia did something mad, he, the president of Turkey, can once again fool the West by posing as a pro-Western ally. Let’s do a reality check:

* On February 25, Turkey “abstained… from voting on suspending Russia’s membership in most bodies of the Cooperation Council in Europe in response to the military operation in Ukraine. ‘During the vote in Strasbourg (the seat of the Council of Europe), Turkey decided to abstain,’ Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview with Turkish TV channel NTV. ‘We don’t want to break off the dialogue with Russia.'”

* On February 24, senior Turkish and Pakistani officials announced that the NATO member and China’s staunchest regional ally have joined forces in the development and production of a new fifth-generation fighter aircraft.

* On March 13, Çavuşoğlu said that humanitarian aid on its own cannot adequately address Afghanistan’s problems and that countries should offer diplomatic recognition of the Islamic Emirate as well – the first time a foreign political leader publicly called for this step.

* According to a report submitted to the UN Security Council, a Turkish maritime company owned by a businessman widely known to be an Erdoğan associate, helped the Turkish government violate the United Nations arms embargo on Libya. The move prompted UN investigators to flag the shipping line operating out of Turkey.

* Turkish drones used by the Ukrainian forces, the TB-2 Bayraktar, are cost-efficient solutions in conflicts between symmetrical powers. However, according to a report submitted to the UN Security Council by the Panel of Experts on Libya, the TB-2s were an easy target for ground fire, “they were easily destroyed in the air by the (Russian-made) Pantsir S-1 air defense system.” Anyone with some “Warfare 101” knowledge understands that drones, however successful, are not game-changers in conflicts between forces that are wildly asymmetrical.

* Believing that TB2 unmanned aerial vehicles could be game-changers in Ukraine is similar to thinking that the Turkish drones could be used to stop a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

* In an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal, former CIA official Paul Kolbe suggested that “Turkey should send Ukraine the Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems.” Turkey said, however, that it dismissed the idea of transferring those systems to Ukraine to help Kyiv resist Russian troops.

* The West’s primary weapon against Russian aggression is sanctions. Who is in it? And who is not? As Western governments targeted Roman Abramovich and several other Russian oligarchs with sanctions to isolate Putin and his allies – but not most Russian oligarchs or businesses — a second super-yacht linked to the Russian billionaire docked in a Turkish resort. In addition, no one seems to be touching the $700 million yacht docked in Italy and reportedly owned by Putin.

* A source in Ankara told Reuters that given the sanctions imposed elsewhere, Abramovich and other wealthy Russians were looking to invest in Turkey. “He wants to do some work and may buy some assets,” the source said, adding that the oligarch already had some assets in Turkey. Another source in Ankara said Turkey was not currently considering joining the sanctions action and was expecting wealthy Russians to purchase assets and make investments. Indeed. “Russian oligarchs are welcome in Turkey,” Çavuşoğlu said on March 26, “but must abide by international law in order to do any business.”

Meanwhile, Russia keeps using Turkish airspace as freely as if no one had ever invaded Ukraine.

Turkey apparently hopes to get all it can from this “Christian-to-Christian” conflict: Let the infidels destroy each other as Turkey cashes in with geostrategic gains and spill-over Russian business from the West.