Note: This article by Dr. Alfonse Javed was originally published in Providence Magazine on February 22, 2021.
Turkey is sending a strong message to Arab states against normalizing relations with Israel. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan views the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain’s new peace with Israel as a betrayal of Palestinians, who consider it to be a tragedy. Considering that Turkey has enjoyed diplomatic relations with Israel and trade since 1949, he is likely not upset because of solidarity with Palestinians, which Muslim and Arab leaders have long manipulated. Instead, the normalization between the Arabs and Israelis diminishes Turkey’s role as the chief mediator between Israel and the Muslim world, so Erdogan’s anguish probably comes from fear of an “Arab option.”
The United States, Europe, the Muslim world, and Israel now have an Arab option when dealing amongst themselves. Arabs, especially in the Persian Gulf, have modernized their economies and consider a good relationship with Israel to be in their interest, especially to deal with countries like Iran. So these countries no longer need Turkey to serve as a mediator or backdoor channel, which will drastically minimize Turkey’s geopolitical role in the Israel-Arab conflict. Clearly, the new peace presents a threat to both Turkey’s dream to revive Ottoman-style rule and Iran’s ambition to overthrow the Saudis’ religious dominance.
Erdogan’s ego will hardly tolerate this new insignificance, as he ultimately dreams of reviving the Ottoman Empire. His dreams are partially based on the perception that Turkey is a modern state that can deal with all parties in global politics, and partially based on an ever-increasing focus on Islamization and radicalization. Every step he now takes is a declaration of his vision for an era of neo-Ottoman rule.
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