The Noble and the Ignoble in the Eastern Mediterranean
Yes, the world is a cynical place.
Turkey's foreign policy makes some sense, if you look at things from a Realpolitik point of view. I don't mean all the rhetoric about bringing democracy to the Middle East. The populist nonsense about Israel is just that, populist nonsense, and deeply cynical, of course.
Turkey's leaders can read Western newspapers. I reckon they pretty much agree with Bret Stephens' assessment today in the Wall Street Journal--as do I, completely:
What is now happening in Europe isn't so much a crisis as it is an exposure: a Madoff-type event rather than a Lehman one. The shock is that it's a shock. Greece was never going to be bailed out and will, sooner or later, default. The banks holding Greek debt will, sooner or later, be recapitalized. The recapitalization will be borne by German taxpayers, and it will bring them—sooner rather than later—to the outer limit of their forbearance. The Chinese will not ride to the rescue: They know not to throw good money after bad.
And then Italy will go Greek. Europe's crisis will lap on U.S. shores, and America's economic woes will lap on Europe's—a two-way tsunami.
The explosion of the European project means that Turkish strategists now figure that in a few years' time, they won't be negotiating with "Europe," they'll be negotiating with sovereign states. Greece has already gone Greek. The United States looks to be out of the picture until the next election, at least. It's pulling out of Iraq, leaving a power vacuum. So, why not take a stab at the Eastern Mediterranean? It all makes sense.
As everyone is noting, Turkey and Israel have long been the United States' strategic allies in the region. Now, why is that? Is it really because they're both secular democracies? Well, sort of. As a historian, I have to put it more truthfully: It's because both countries have been strategically useful to the United States. That powerful pro-Israel lobby everyone always talks about gets neutered by a powerful pro-Arab lobby, over and over, and in the end the United States does what countries do: It pursues its own strategic interest. I generalize, but you may consult my doctoral thesis for the details. Likewise, Turkey's relationship with Israel has also always been governed by strategic logic, not affection; and it is governed by strategic logic now.
Energy Minister Taner Yıldız meanwhile said Tuesday that, “Turkey has now moved into action.” He added that a continental shelf delimitation accord, to be signed soon with northern Cyprus, would determine the maritime boundaries in which the Turkish Petroleum Corporation, or TPAO, would conduct its own research, in cooperation with a Norwegian company. In a show of force, Turkish navy and air forces would also escort TPAO’s exploration vessels.
The drilling row has become heightened amid Turkey’s already simmering crisis with Israel, which, according to Greek Cypriot media reports, sent unmanned surveillance aircraft to fly over the drilling operation in a gesture of solidarity with Greek Cyprus.
The continental shelf accord, which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said might be signed this week, will determine the areas in which TPAO can carry out oil and gas exploration activities. The Energy Ministry official said the accord would provide the legal basis for drilling, but seismic studies could go ahead without it.
Turkey is on NATO's front line in the Caucasus against Russia, on which they depend for three-quarters of their natural gas. Remember what happened in Georgia? The Turks do.
So, everyone's talking about the revival of the Ottoman Empire. They're also talking about Turkey making a bid to offer itself as the competitor against Iran for regional hegemony with the terrific Turkish model.
They do seem to be forgetting something when they talk about that, though. What were Russia and the Ottoman Empire, historically?
So, if Turkey is putting itself forward as the counterweight to Iran, what would we predict?