When Russia’s Vladimir Putin recently remarked that Turkey’s Erdogan is an ardent follower of the logic of national interest, he was perhaps alluding to the way Tukey continues to adjust very consistently between the West and the East, though it doesn’t always work. Turkey is a member of NATO and is a buyer of Russian defense systems as well. While for all other NATO members, Turkey’s behavior is unacceptable and even counter-productive, Erdogan’s defense of this purchase is, as can be expected, rooted in his ardent pursuit of national interests. As it stands, for Turkey, this particular purchase doesn’t make it a strategic ally of Russia, nor does it make it an enemy of NATO.
While there is no gainsaying that NATO is facing an internal crisis, Turkey’s policy remains focused on finding a right balance between its NATO obligations and national interests, which don’t always converge with NATO though. For Turkey’s Erdogan, geo-politics is not a zero-sum game and that the balance of power continues to shift, demanding consistent adjustments. With Trump’s exit from power and the fact that the White House will now have fewer anti-Erdogan officials like Mike Pompeo, it is but logical for Erdogan to respond to these changes in a way that best suits Turkey’s core national interests. Turkey’s recent positive overtures to Israel reflect these adjustments.
Until Trump’s defeat in elections, Erdogan’s official discourse was anti-Israel. He would repeatedly criticize The Abraham Accords and would make resolution of the Palestinian question a pre-requisite for re-establishing ties with Israel. Trump’s exit from the White House has led to some crucial changes in Turkey’s stance. It has already re-established diplomatic ties with Israel, even though the pre-requisite remains unresolved. While Erdogan still said that Palestine remains a “red line” (just as it has always been), he would still like to have better ties with Israel, going beyond the already existing “intelligence contacts.”
The fact that Ankara is now reaching out to Israel shows how this adjustment suits its current needs when it is facing tumultuous challenges. With the US and EU imposing sanctions on Turkey at a time when its economy is in a free-fall mode, Erdogan finds its significant to mend Turkey’s image in a way that could make it a little bit more ‘acceptable’ in Washington and Brussels.