While Israel is in the midst of a very heated election season of its own, this did not stop Tel Aviv from jumping to recognise Venezuela’s self-appointed “leader” as legitimate. Here, one witnesses a pure act of partisanship as Israel and Venezuela broke off relations in 2009 due to then President Hugo Chavez’s opposition to Israel’s actions in occupied Palestine. Now though, as Israel seeks to do ever more business in Latin America, Tel Aviv has not hesitated to join its North American allies in recognising the would be “leadership” of a man who has no constitutional legitimacy according to both Venezuelan and international law.
Turkey has taken a completely opposite approach. In spite of being in the midst of an asymmetrical rapprochement with its NATO partner the United States and in spite of trade between Turkey and the European Union expanding, Turkey has robustly criticised the United States and the parliament of the European Union for recognising a self-appointed leader as Venezuela’s head of state, as opposed to the United Nations recognised President Nicolas Maduro.
Throughout a 2018 which saw US-Turkey and even EU-Turkey relations face new challenges, the Turkish government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan remained steadfast in the face of foreign pressure on the following matters:
–no compromises to Turkey’s security in respect of opposing the proliferation of PKK terror in northern Syria
–no compromises on an independent Turkish monetary policy in spite of western speculators including those linked with George Soros hedging bets against the lira, during and in the aftermath of Turkey’s election season
–no compromises on criticising Israel’s treatment of Palestinians
–no compromises on the need for the US to deliver the partly Turkish designed F-35 jets as scheduled
–no compromises over purchasing the S-400 defence weapon system from Russia
–no compromises over punishing FETO suspects in spite of their relations with the US
–no compromises over defending Turkey and Iran’s mutual business interests
–no political release of Andrew Brunson before the completion of his trial (he was ultimately found guilty)
In each of these areas where Erdoğan drew a red line, Turkey was able to achieve its goal by maintaining a firm position which did not succumb to pressure. This is why, Donald Trump ultimately agreed with Turkey’s perspective on the need to protect innocent people from the PKK’s terror, whilst US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham effectively apologised to Turkey for the foolish pro-YPG/PKK policies that dated back to the Obama administration.
Furthermore, Andrew Brunson was returned to the US after serving time during a trial which ultimately vindicated Turkey’s long hold positions, whilst Turkey received a sanctions wavier in respect of its economic relations with its Iranian neighbour and partner. Likewise, the US has ultimately gone quiet over its complaints regarding Turkey’s sovereign decision to purchase Russian S-400s after Turkey made assurances that no Russian personnel would be operating the systems on Turkish soil but instead only Turkish military personnel would do so after the systems are delivered. This issue could still be raised by Washington in the future, but given the guarantees Turkey has made, it would be utterly flippant for anyone in Washington to do anything other than move on from the matter, not least because the US has effectively green-lighted India to purchase Russian S-400s without receiving any financial penalties from Washington.
The Turkey of 2019 is therefore a place that is more at peace with its US partner than it was in 2018, but this has not prohibited Turkey from robustly defending international law in Venezuela. It is not just that Turkey is well aware of what can potentially happen to a nation that falls victim to an externally orchestrated coup, but as Turkey looks to build new partnerships throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America, it is important that Turkey is able to show a kind of leadership that follows the law and a universal sense of ethics, rather than one which simply follows narrow partisan or ideological interests as Israel clearly has done in respect of its relations with Venezuela’s pretender “president”.
Whilst the burgeoning Turkey-Israel rivalry in the Eastern Mediterranean is very much real and very much predicated on petro-politics as much as issues involving Palestine, as two very different governments that have both had long standing 20th century ties to Washington, Turkey has shown its partners in the developing world that a Turkish friend is one that does not change its position with the political seasons, but instead is one that defends the political, legal and sovereign economic interests of a partner. Israel has instead joined with the US in attempting to set a dangerous precedent which indicates that one can simply recognise anyone one wants as the leader of a foreign nation, thus undermining everything that the United Nations and that international law it is supposed to defend, stands for.
Turkey continues to maintain one of the most independent foreign policies in the world. Turkey has shown that it is not afraid to criticise traditional friends nor make pragmatic agreements among perceived foes. This is why during this week alone, Turkey has criticised apparent links between the US and extremists in Syria’s Idlib de-escalation zone, whilst Turkey has condemned both the US and EU decisions to meddle in Venezuela’s sovereign affairs. But even the early stage threat of US sanctions due to Turkey’s economic partnership with Venezuela has not deterred Ankara from offering to mediate in the crisis in Caracas.
Whilst the US has already rejected proposals from both Mexico and Uruguay to mediate in the crisis, it remains to be seen if Turkey will be allowed to pursue de-escalation tactics in respect of helping Venezuela to remain at peace during a time when many in Washington are openly beating the war drums.
Turkey is ultimately an asset to anyone genuinely interested in preventing the situation in Venezuela from deteriorating. Just as Turkey has been able to cooperate with countries as diverse as the United States, Russia and Iran in Syria, so too could Turkey cooperate with conflicting factions in Venezuela and do so without breaking its longstanding legal commitments to respecting Venezuela’s sovereignty.