The transformations in Turkish foreign policy since 2020, on regional issues, and its efforts to normalize the relations with their competitors in the region, raise a number of questions. Most notably whether these transformations are tactical, falling into the category of political maneuvers, or whether they are strategic orientations, aiming at reach advanced levels of relationship with various Middle Eastern countries.
What is certain is that the changes in Turkish foreign policy are driven by a range of domestic and foreign qualitative variables. The most important of which are: the worsening economic crisis, the regionally and internationally affected Turkey's diplomatic relations, and the fall of political Islam, favored by the Justice and Development Party, and President Erdogan, since the beginning of the so-called "Arab Spring" in 2011. Despite many files have witnessed significant transformations in Turkish stances and policies, two variables were the most prominent: The Turkish-Israeli relations, and Turkey's relations with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Among many transformations in Turkish foreign policy, there are many indications that There is Turkish interest in restoring the political relations with Israel, which appear to be moving toward a rapid return, after years of mutual discourse escalations.
On July 12, 2021, the Turkish President, Recep Erdogan, spoke made a phone call with his Israeli counterpart, Yitzhak Herzog. And this year, on January 20, a similar communication took place between the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlutoglu, and his Israeli counterpart, Yair Lapid. In addition to the communication between the Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, with Turkish President following Ankara's release of an Israeli couple arrested in Turkey, on charges of espionage in November 2021, according to Turkey's Anadolu News Agency. In December 2021, the Turkish president noted, during his meeting with members of the Turkish-Jewish community Members in the Alliance of Rabbis in Muslim Countries, to "the vital importance of Turkish-Israeli relations in the security and stability of the region".
The foregoing may, perhaps, point to a near-end of the political stalemate or "frosty" relations, which reached limits close to describing such relations as "quasi-hostile". Particularly as the repeated military escalation between Israel and Hamas in 2012, 2014 and 2021 provided a fertile ground for the growing political disputes between the two states, in the light of a Turkish political discourse that denounces the Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories.
The post-Arab Spring phase witnessed Turkey's growing relations with political Islam groups, in a manner deemed, by some analysts, as an ambitious foreign policy at the regional level, mainly based on supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.
However, the political stalemate in Turkish-Israeli relations were not a milestone in these relations altogether, as the two countries carried on their relations at the economic level, with Turkey's imports from Israel reaching $1.5 billion in 2020. According to figures reported by Al-Hurra TV Channel, the scale of the foreign trade between Turkey and Israel in 2020 was about $6.2 billion. Turkey is ranked fourth is Israel's total imports for 2020, with 6.2%. Furthermore, the coordination and cooperation in the areas of security and intelligence continued. The security channel remained open as part of exchanging common interest intelligence information.
The opportunity seems available for Ankara to change its position towards Tel Aviv, in line with the changes in the Israeli government witnessed, following the departure of former Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Such chance comes amidst a notable activity of Turkish foreign policy, to restore the political relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. These efforts were reflected in the exchanged visits of leaders between Ankara and Abu Dhabi. After the visit of Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Zayed, to Turkey on November 24, 2021, the visit of Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to the United Arab Emirates, came on February 14th this year.
Turkey's Relations with the Muslim Brotherhood
Ankara's relations with the Muslim Brotherhood witnessed developments, in conjunction with Turkish President Recep Erdogan's opening towards Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The three countries share banning the Muslim Brotherhood from political and media activities.
The rapprochement in relations, seems to have coincided with Ankara taking several steps, towards restricting the political and media activity of the Muslim Brotherhood on its territory. The past period witnessed Turkey restrictions on the Muslim Brotherhood, after suspending its media activities, and taking security measures against a number of members of the group by turkey's interior security service.
This comes along a set of variables in the nature of the approaches which ruled Ankara's relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, including:
First: Many countries around the world, are now managing the Muslim Brotherhood's files under the supervision of security agencies, particularly in Europe. It is clear that the Muslim Brotherhood file has become a security and political burden on Turkey.
Second: It is a relationship that was developed in the context of the subsequent events of the so-called "Arab Spring", and declined due to the failure of the experience of the Muslim Brotherhood in a number of Arab countries. The matter which prompted Ankara to reconsider its relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, so as not to increase the state of political, economic, and security attrition, imposed on it from supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.
Third: The Muslim Brotherhood's support declined in the international political scene. Especially since many Western countries no longer deem them anymore the moderate and objective alternative to terrorist groups. In addition to the fall of the Western hypothesis, that the Muslim Brotherhood is "reformist" and stands in the face of chaos. The Muslim Brotherhood experience in power went in a contrary direction, full of divisions and polarizations.
Reasons of Turkish Political Transformations
Turkey's domestic political transformations are related to the severe economic crisis, demonstrated the most in the decrease of the Turkish lira exchange rate, the rise of inflation, the low investment indicators, and the rising prices. Turkey's annual inflation rate rose to its highest level since 2002, with Bloomberg quoting Turkish Treasury and Finance Minister, Noureddine Nabatiyeh, as saying that inflation in Turkey may remain at 40% for several months, but did not dismiss the possibility of a rise to 50%.
In 2021, after several successive cuts in the central bank's main interest rate, the pace of decline in the Turkish lira increased, adversely affecting the financial system. On November 23, 2021, the Turkish lira experienced an 18% decline, the highest rate of lira decline in the past 20 years.
On the foreign relations level, Ankara's relations with its Western allies declined. Its relations with NATO came to strains, after the escalation with Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean region, there is also the tension with the alliance along with the United States, over President Erdogan's S-400 missile deal with the Russian president. While the political relations with Russia, which is not without geopolitical competition, have not progressed, with the two sides engaged in contradictory policies in Syria and Libya, even the Balkans, and Ukraine.
As for the Turkish-Arab relations, the repercussions of the events of the so-called "Arab Spring" in 2011, witnessed the emergence of several controversial point between Ankara and many Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. The Turkish actions in Syria and Libya, and support for the Muslim Brotherhood, have been interpreted as targeting the safety of Arab countries.
The Turkish Political Transformations Future and Horizons
The question of how serious the Turkish leadership is, in going too far in its political transformations, specifically towards its relationship with Israel and the Muslim Brotherhood, is gaining legitimacy in the light of historical precedents, underlined by the rapid changes in Turkish foreign policy orientation on many issues.
Based on the foregoing, the facts of the worsening domestic crises and their economic headlines, the upcoming general elections scheduled for June 2023, and the new domestic and foreign risks for Turkey, where the most prominent of which may have an impact on the AKP's chances of winning, may explain Turkey's move to propose new policies that will calm hot files and go beyond the goal of containing the repercussions of the economic crisis. Which means that these new transformations have been imposed by developments that make them outside the frameworks of political maneuvers and temporary gains.
The continuation of Turkish political transitions in the foreseeable future, until the next general elections -at least- will be the most likely scenario to take place. It may be translated in multiple arenas where Turkey has roles in, or at the level of Turkey's international and regional relations, through a series of positions and decisions. Perhaps no less than Ankara's impulses towards Tel Aviv, by overcoming the recent political crisis and, restoring relations to its relatively-warm past. At the same time when Turkey rearranges the relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, so that these relations may looks more politically balanced, less partisan, more security-controlled. It may go far toward higher levels of cooperation and coordination with Russia, particularly with regard to the Syrian file, and does not pose a threat to Turkey's strategic relations with NATO and the United States.