Turkey’s New Threat Assessment: A Challenge for Washington
Ariel Cohen /
Turkey’s dramatic announcement that it revised the list of countries which it believes threatens its national security (a list alternatively known as the “Red Book”) confirms Ankara’s strategic drift away from the West and greater embrace of Iran and other states hostile to the U.S.
Turkey’s top-secret national security policy document (known by its Turkish abbreviation MGSB), or the Red Book, lists Turkey’s perceived domestic and external threats. It is regularly updated by the National Security Council, formerly chaired by a general, but as of recently under the control of the ruling Islamist AK Party (AKP).
Under the AKP, the “Red Book” just underwent its most drastic changes since the document was first issued in 1980. These alterations, which are established behind closed doors, prove the ascent of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s “neo-Ottoman” geopolitical approach and the continuation of a staunchly anti-Israeli foreign policy.
The newest version, leaked to the pro-government media, is revolutionary. Turkey has removed Russia, which in 2008 occupied one-quarter of its neighbor and friend Georgia’s territory, from its list of critical threats. Earlier, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered his counterpart Vladimir Putin a “Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform”, a condominium that would include Russia and the three South Caucasus states, but not the U.S., EU member states, or Iran—without consulting or even warning Washington or European capitals.
Instead, over the least eight years, Turkey and Russia developed a strategic and energy partnerships, which provide Turkey with over 60 percent of its energy, and extensive trade ties. Turkey also removed its neighbor Armenia from the list of adversaries, despite the ongoing blockade of Armenia’s border.
Along with Russia, Turkey removed Iraq and Syria from the list. Iraq is unstable and is a base for Kurdish irredentism and PKK, al-Qaeda and Shiite Hezbollah terrorism, while Syria is a long-time state sponsor of terrorism, including Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas.
Iran, with its highly suspicious nuclear program, a ballistic missile arsenal, vitriolic rhetoric denying Israel’s right to exist, and propaganda aimed against the United States, has allegedly been removed from Turkey’s list of critical threats. his new list, combined with Turkey’s proposed partnership with Iran and Brazil to facilitate Iran’s uranium enrichment, and Turkey’s vote against U.N. anti-Iranian sanctions indicate Ankara choice of Iran as a preferred partner and ally,
Finally, Turkey has put the former strategic and trade partner Israel at the forefront of the list as a “severe threat.” Turkish-Israeli relations have been in a steep decline since Prime Minister Erdogan’s verbal assault on the dovish Israeli elder statesman, President Shimon Peres at the Davos World Economic Summit in January 2009. Unfortunately, in May, 2010, the AKP government supported the Islamist IHH organization’s flotilla in support of Hamas in Gaza. A botched Israeli action against the MEVI MARMARA, the lead ship of the flotilla, in which nine Turkish pro-Palestinian Islamists were killed after attacking the Israeli force, gave Turkey a pretext to quickly unravel the carefully weaved ties with Israel. Recently, according to Turkish and Israeli media reports, Hakan Fidan, Director of MIT, Turkey’s intelligence service, ordered to cease cooperation with Mossad, Israeli foreign intelligence. There are indications Turkey is expanding cooperation with Iran.
The addition of Israel to the “Red Book,” coupled with Turkey’s allegation that Israel’s actions may prompt a Middle Eastern arms race, delivered a decisive blow to what remained of Turkish-Israeli relations. Turkey showed its hostility to staunch US ally Israel with other measures as well – a “strategic partnership” between Turkey and Syria, and Ankara’s alleged military supply agreement with Hezbollah.
During last week’s discussions over a new NATO missile defense shield, Ankara demanded that non-NATO members (primarily Israel) could have no access to intelligence gained through the missile shield’s radar system, to which the U.S. reportedly agreed.
Turkey’s contributions to the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns and desire to be a part of NATO missile defense program are laudable, but many questions have been raised about Turkey foreign policy since the AKP has taken over. Regardless of Davutoglu’s stated goals, such as “zero problems with neighbors,” the new Turkish foreign policy is distancing Turkey’s long time friends and creating a challenge and a headache for the U.S.
The Obama Administration should express a grave concern over Turkey’s foreign policy trajectory, as relations with Iran and Israeli have become a litmus test for Turkish foreign policy course. The U.S. Government should offer incentives, but should also apply more pressure to deter Turkey from growing closer to Iran. Washington should insist on a Turkish-Israeli rapprochement—including the vital intelligence sharing regarding the Iranian threat. This is a strategic priority the White House cannot ignore.
Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.