ANKARA: Erdohan To Tour Arab Spring Nations Amidst Regional Showdown


Today’s Zaman
Sept 7 2011

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoðan has decided to expand the
scope of a visit to Egypt and added Tunisia and Libya to the itinerary
of his trip, which will take place next week at a time of increasing
regional tensions. “The prime minister had already announced his
intention to visit these countries. He eventually decided to visit
the three countries where the Arab Spring took place,” diplomatic
sources told Today’s Zaman on Wednesday.

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdað, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoðlu,
Energy Minister Taner Yýldýz, Economy Minister Zafer Caðlayan,
Transportation Minister Binali Yýldýrým and Defense Minister Ýsmet
Yýlmaz were at a coordination meeting at the Foreign Ministry on
Wednesday, reviewing preparations for Erdoðan’s visit to the three

No statement was released after the coordination meeting, with
diplomatic sources saying that all of those ministers were expected
to accompany Erdoðan during the first leg of his tour, which will
be Egypt.

“The visit to Egypt had to be postponed a few times because of the
political situation in Egypt,” the same sources highlighted, in an
apparent effort to rule out a direct link between the timing of the
visit and the escalating tension with Israel.

Turkey suspended its substantial military ties with Israel last week,
saying that it was expelling top Israeli diplomats and pledged to
lobby other nations in support of the Palestinians’ statehood bid
after Israel refused to apologize for last year’s raid on a Gaza-bound
flotilla that killed nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists.

Erdoðan is scheduled to arrive in Cairo on the evening of Monday,
Sept.12, and will proceed to Tunisia on Wednesday, where he will stay
for a day, the same sources said. The prime minister will travel
to Libya on Thursday and will return to Turkey later that day, the
sources said. “In Egypt, we have many things to discuss. North Africa,
the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean are only some of these
discussion topics. In all three countries, the main message to the
counterparts will be the need to preserve stability during these
transformations,” a senior diplomat told Today’s Zaman.

Erdoðan on Tuesday said the Turkish navy will step up its surveillance
of the eastern Mediterranean Sea — a move that could potentially lead
to confrontation with Israel — and warned of more sanctions against
Israel if relations between the former allies deteriorate further.

Whether or not Erdoðan’s visit to Egypt was projected long before
the latest escalation of tension with Israel, his visit to Egypt as
well as Tunisia and Libya will be closely watched by Israel, since
Turkey nearly cutting ties with it increases Israel’s isolation at
a delicate time.

Israel worries that Turkey’s actions will become a model for Egypt,
where calls to revoke the 32-year-old treaty with the Jewish state
have multiplied since the ouster of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt has threatened to withdraw its ambassador in a row over the
border shooting of five Egyptian security personnel last month,
as Israeli troops repelled militants who killed eight Israelis.

Erdoðan’s tour also comes as Israel seeks to muster international
support against the Palestinians’ attempt to have their state
recognized at the UN this month. The uprising in Syria, which shares
borders with Israel and Turkey, adds new uncertainty to the regional

Dismissing a UN report into Israel’s deadly raid that said Israel’s
naval blockade of Gaza was a legal security measure last weekend,
Foreign Minister Davutoðlu warned Israel that it risks alienation
among Arab nations by refusing to apologize.

“If Israel persists with its current position, the Arab Spring will
give rise to a strong opposition to Israel as well as the debate on
authoritarian regimes,” Davutoðlu said.

On Friday Turkey downgraded its diplomatic ties with Israel to the
level of second secretary and gave the ambassador and other high-level
diplomats until Wednesday to leave the country. In other measures
against Israel, Turkey suspended military agreements, promised to back
legal actions against Israel by the raid victims’ families and vowed to
take steps to ensure freedom to navigate in the eastern Mediterranean.

Some Israeli officials think Turkey has decided that ties with
Israel do not serve its interests as it seeks more influence in the
Muslim world and that an Israeli apology would have done nothing to
change that.

“Turkey smells Israel’s weakness and isolation in the international
arena and is exploiting it,” Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister
of Israel and opposition Kadima Party leader, was quoted as saying
by Israeli media on Wednesday.

“Turkey realizes that the US no longer sees Israel as an asset but
as a liability and is not trying to end Israel’s isolation in the
world, which would isolate the US at the UN,” Livni said, adding,
“Turkey realizes this relationship and has increased its cooperation
with the US against the Iranian threat.”

In Egypt, in addition to the head of Egypt’s ruling military council,
Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf
and other officials and politicians, Erdoðan is also expected to meet
with a group of young people who joined the protests at Tahrir Square
which eventually led to the ouster of Mubarak.

“There are a few agreements that will be signed,” a spokesperson for
Egyptian Prime Minister Mohamed Higazy said on Tuesday, adding that
the two sides would discuss political coordination and economic ties.

Erdoðan on Tuesday said that Turkish officials are in talks with
their Egyptian counterparts for a possible visit to Gaza.

“This is a process that will continue until the last minute. We
are in talks with our Egyptian brothers. I may or may not go to
Gaza,” Erdoðan told reporters in response to a question on reports
suggesting that he wants to travel to the Gaza Strip through Egypt’s
Rafah border crossing.

An Egyptian official, however, said on Tuesday that he did not expect
such a trip to take place.

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