Few people know that Turkey has a military base in Mogadishu, far from its borders, and that Turkey’s largest embassy in the world is in the Somali capital; noting the only thing in common between Libya and Somalia is that they are both torn by war. Turkey has also had a foothold in Sudan’s Suakin Island, but its plan to build a military base there collapsed with the ouster of President Omar Al-Bashir, as the new leadership in Khartoum canceled all military agreements with Ankara.
Are these Turkish red circles scattered on the map of the region the fruits of a well-planned policy, an expansionist project or just the reactions of a narcissist?
During the early years of the war in Syria, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was reluctant to cross the borders militarily. Today, however, his forces are inside Syria, but they have lost most of their main battles against the Russians and the forces of the Assad regime, as well as against the Americans. The areas assigned by the Turkish government as border crossings inside Syria have shrunk.
But all the happy news may be nothing more than an attempt to raise the morale of the Turkish people, who have been receiving successive economic blows, one after another, for two years now due to political reasons.
Against this backdrop, Erdogan has been keen to broadcast the news of his forces’ victories in Libya to the Turkish people, who are depressed by their poor and deteriorating living conditions. His plan was to spread a stream of news promising his people gains, most notably the signing of oil agreements with Libya, and his intention to explore the areas he has drawn as a maritime border in the Mediterranean, despite Greek objections. He has also hurried to talk about oil discoveries.
The damage done by Turkey’s military adventures in the region, often funded by the small country of Qatar looking for a regional power to climb on, is not to be underestimated.
Erdogan’s project calls for building a major regional power parallel to Iran, and possibly replacing it.
Indeed, the Turkish president is following in the footsteps of the Iranian regime and its expansion in the region, with the latter’s plans set off by the signing of the nuclear deal and its forces’ deployment in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
Following the Iranian model, Turkey is using foreign militias in its war in Libya, and there are reports of its intervention in Yemen too. It has also used Syrian militias to strike the Syrian Kurds of the Syrian Democratic Forces.
Well, these adventures and military bases do not tell us what Erdogan’s policy is, if there is one. Why? What is the expected outcome?
Last December, Malaysia hosted an Islamic summit limited to Erdogan and the presidents of Iran, Indonesia and the emir of Qatar, claiming to study the affairs of the Islamic nation. There, Erdogan tried to present himself as their leader, and to make the summit an alternative to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Makkah. However, the summit failed, and Malaysia tried to make it clear that the Turks’ statements did not reflect their point of view. Later, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed, ousted from his ethnic Malay political party in May, was dismissed.
On the other hand, Erdogan’s project calls for building a major regional power parallel to Iran, and possibly replacing it, given that the US blockade of the Iranians has already weakened them considerably. Turkey, with its 80 million people, assumes regional roles in Central Asia but has not succeeded much against Russia and Iran. Unlike Saudi Arabia and Iran, with their huge oil reserves, Turkey is a country without substantial financial resources and with an economy largely dependent on Russian tourism, European markets and Turkish remittances from the West. This is why Erdogan is relying on Qatari support to save him from every crisis, such as the coronavirus pandemic that has halted the economy and the collapse of the lira, which was a concern until Doha gave him $15 billion.
At the moment, Turkey is present in three seas: The Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. The expected result of its political expansion and military involvement will not be the spread of the influence of the ruler of Ankara, but rather weakening it; as he will not be able to act freely in a vast and troubled region without powerful allies.
Erdogan is still facing undecided tests, such as in the war in Syria, Russian missiles issue, and his military dispute with the Americans.
- Abdulrahman Al-Rashed