The United States is using the threat of so-called second party sanctions to threaten customers of Iranian oil who do not cut of their purchases of energy from the Islamic Republic by November of this year. This is the second time in recent days that Turkey has openly and vocally defied threats of secondary sanctions from the US due to its business deals with countries directly targets by Washington’s CAATSA sanctions.
Less than 48 hours after President Erdogan was re-elected, the US State Department affirmed that if Turkey follows through with its purchase of S-400 missile defence systems from Russia, sanctions against Turkey will not only be on the table but could be rapidly implemented. Turkey’s Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalın later replied that Turkey does not respond to threats and intimidation and that the S-400 deal is very much still on.
Now, Turkey has issued an equally defiant message stating that they will not bow to US pressure regarding Washington’s desired global boycott of Iranian oil. According to Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu,
“The fact that we [and the US] are allies does not mean that we have to abide by all its decisions or all that it says word by word”.
This follows a similar statement from Turkey’s Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci who said,
“The decisions taken by the United States on this issue are not binding for us. Of course, we will follow the United Nations on its decision. Other than this, we will only follow our own national interests”.
In his statement the Economy Minister also referred to Iran as a “friend”, thus sending a clear message that Turkey is not about to forgo crucial economic relations with its neighbour due to threats from the US.
When it comes to buying ultra-modern defensive Russian weapons and oil from Iran, Turkey is becoming a powerful thorn in the side of the US which has hitherto been able to threaten sanctions on both dependants and “allies” in order to use the US Treasury to create involuntary global boycotts of any given nation based on the threat of being cut off from America’s powerful banking system and the US marketplace.
But these threats simply do not work with Turkey, primarily because of President Erdogan’s fierce commitment to an independent foreign and economic policy but also because practically speaking, Turkey like many others have decided that the S-400s are simply better hardware at a more reasonable price than rival NATO missile defence systems and likewise, the proximity of Iran to Turkey means that Iranian oil is invaluable to the energy hungry Turkish economy.
Turkey is also more reliant on Iranian oil than it might have been because plans to work collaboratively with “Israel” on a gas pipeline appear to have fallen off the radar as Tel Aviv turns towards Turkey’s regional foes Cyprus, Egypt and Greece to work on new joint energy projects.
In spite of a very public rapprochement between Anakra and Tel Aviv in 2016 which neither side has formally renounced, in reality, relations between the once friendly powers has declined rapidly since Donald Trump’s announcement that he would relocate the US Embassy to “Israel” from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem/Al-Quds. Since then, President Erdogan has rallied the wider Islamic world to the cause of Palestine even as many Arab states look to formalise their de-facto strong partnerships with Tel Aviv.
Far from being a theory based on self-evident diplomatic and economic trends in the region, “Israel’s” close Arab allies in the region, including the incredibly anti-Turkish Saudi Arabia have reportedly told the leadership in Tel Aviv to take a firmer line against Ankara.
According to journalists from Haaretz, officials from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and even Palestine have approached diplomats in Tel Aviv and accused them of being “asleep at the wheel” regarding Turkey’s alleged desire to “take ownership” of the Palestinian cause and allegedly gain influence in occupied Palestine.
Given the resentment throughout certain Arab capitals about the fact that the central issue of post-colonial Arab identity is now being defended more loudly by a Turkish leader than virtually any Arab head of state, it is not only plausible that the confidential sources which spoke to Haaretz are telling the truth, but it is in fact likely that certain pro-Zionist Arab states are pushing “Israel” to become more outwardly hostile towards Turkey.
Apart from Turkey making Arab leaders look like fools by talking loudly about the Arab cause of Palestine at a time when many Arab states are only vaguely whispering about it, many Arab states, especially Egypt and Saudi Arabia are keen to see “Israel” break what remains of its once healthy relationship with Turkey in order to force “Israel” into a more meaningful relationship with de-facto pro-Zionist Arab states by taking away one of “Israel’s” historic options for a regional partnership in the form of Turkey.
Moreover though, this development makes it clear that in the contemporary Middle East there is a clear geopolitical divide between a northern bloc of Middle East nations and southern bloc.
The northern bloc is comprised of Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. These states often have disagreements, most notably in respect of Syria and Turkey who don’t even have formal relations. But nevertheless, all of these nations look to pursue their own version of geopolitical multi-polarity, each is either resentful (Syria, Iran) or sceptical (Turkey, Lebanon) of US hegemonic ambitions in the region and each has taken a firm position in favour of Palestine vis-a-vis its occupier.
In the southern bloc are the Arab allies of the United States and “Israel” whose only common denominator with the north is that they are also able to have excellent relations with both Russia and China – a fact which allows Russia to skilfully balance the security concerns of each side while China can do the same economically. In the southern bloc of the Middle East lies Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, Egypt and increasingly some of the leadership of Palestine. These countries are happy for the status quo of pushing for a US mediated peace in Palestine to drag on indefinitely (in spite of what some Palestinian leaders say), have no plans to seriously challenge the ambitions of their US ally and except for Saudi Arabia’s economic diversification drive, few have geopolitical (as opposed to economic) multipolar ambitions. In the case of some nations, Jordan for example, it seems Amman has few geopolitical ambitions at all.
Ultimately, this is why Turkey frightens both the US and its allies in the southern bloc of the Middle East. While Iraq is militarily weak and majority Shi’a and while Syria is in the midst of a devastating conflict and is labelled by some as a “Shi’a government” (a misleading epithet but one that’s stuck in the minds of many), while Lebanon is both small, weak and politically complex and while Iran is neither Arab nor Sunni – Turkey in spite of not being an Arab state, is able under President Erdogan to speak more effectively to many Sunni Muslim Arabs (the majority of all Arabs) than both Sunni Arab states and Shi’a dominated states, whether Arab or Iranian.
While Turkey has a clear advantage in winning hearts and minds in Palestine because of this, notably, Turkey has good relations with all of its fellow northern bloc partners except for Syria and this too may change throughout the future discussions within the format of the Astana peace process. Furthermore, Turkey’s wholesale improvement of ties with Iran has now been cemented by Ankara’s willingness to continue to purchase Iranian energy in spite of the threat of US sanctions.
This clearly angers Saudi Arabia and Jordan and in spite of historic good feeling between Tel Aviv and Ankara, it now seems that Saudi Arabia and other anti-Iranian Arab powers will use Turkey’s apparently unbreakable relations with Iran to paint Turkey as a menace according to the “Israeli” mindset that labels any country (with the exceptions of Russia and China) which does not dislike Iran as automatically suspect or even evil.
The regional balance of power has dramatically shifted. Turkey now leads a northern bloc of Middle Eastern policy makers while Ankara’s soft power reach goes well into the southern Middle East and into Muslim majority states in Africa, including Egypt’s rival Sudan.
While many still refuse to grasp Turkey’s dramatic shift from reliable NATO member to multipolar eastern looking independent and proud nation – the realities on the ground in the Middle East speak to a wider acknowledgement among regional powers of the new reality of Turkey’s vital role as the de-facto head of the northern bloc of Middle Eastern nations. While in private Iranian policy makers must at least partly realises this, Iran’s public rhetoric has yet to catch up to the trends of Turkey being not only Iran’s most meaningful partner but the leader of the region in more ways than one.