Ankara faces new wave of biting sanctions, now from Europe

A Turkish Navy warship patroling next to Turkey's drilling ship "Fatih" dispatched towards the eastern Mediterranean near Cyprus. (AFP)
Updated 18 July 2019

Ankara faces new wave of biting sanctions, now from Europe

  • The decision came after months of escalated tension in the region

ANKARA: The European Council’s decision to impose sanctions on Turkey over its drilling activities in disputed offshore territories in the eastern Mediterranean has caused a political earthquake in the country.

In the final declaration, the council said it would suspend civil aviation talks and “agree not to hold … further meetings of the EU-Turkey high-level dialogues for the time being” due to Ankara’s “continued and new illegal drilling activities” near EU member Cyprus.

The decision came after months of escalated tension in the region, where Ankara has deployed three gas exploration ships to expand its drilling operations. Greek Cypriots issued arrest warrants for the ships’ crews.

Pre-EU accession financial aid for Turkey will be cut next year. The EU also advised the European Investment Bank, which supports infrastructure-related investments, to review its lending programs to Turkey.

Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat who chairs the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, said the sanctions will have little impact on the economic dimension of the Turkey-EU relationship. 

“Of more concern however is the very palpable path to further escalation. This predicament underlines the EU’s strategic miscalculation,” he told Arab News. 

According to Ulgen, the EU is struggling to design a smart engagement policy with Turkey. 

“Instead, it (the EU) has become reliant on punishments like sanctions or the scaling down of financial assistance. Ideally, the EU should create a positive agenda that can be more influential in impacting Turkey’s behavior,” he added. 

The civil aviation negotiations on the EU’s Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement, which regulates commercial flights in the region, were suspended under the new sanctions. 

“On the aviation agreement, the suspension of the negotiations means that further liberalization in air transport will be postponed,” Ulgen said. 

Such liberalization, he added, would have been beneficial for Turkish consumers. 

“The impact on Turkish Airlines is less clear. It would have depended on how successful it would be in capturing market share within the EU,” Ulgen said.

Ankara promptly reacted to the declaration by emphasizing that it would continue its activities near Cyprus and would send a fourth ship to the region “as soon as possible.”

The council’s declaration emphasized that additional “targeted measures” were being considered to further punish Turkey. 

The EU sanctions coincide with impending US sanctions over Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system.

Madalina Sisu Vicari, Brussels-based expert on European energy policies and geopolitics, believes the EU sanctions are delicately calibrated to avoid a significant economic impact and widening the political rift between Brussels and Ankara. 

“They were purposefully crafted in order to send a political message, not to harm the Turkish economy,” Vicari said.

Ankara, which does not formally recognize the Republic of Cyprus in the Greek south of the island, began accession talks to join the EU in 2005. Negotiations have not progressed for over a decade because of Turkey’s stance on Cyprus.

Regarding the air transport agreement, Vicari said she thinks it will not impact flights out of Istanbul airport. 

“The air transport agreement has been under negotiation since 2010, and it aims to remove nationality restrictions and to operate flights between any EU destination and Turkey. The EU chose to suspend this agreement instead of the EU-Turkey Customs Union negotiations, which are far more important for both sides,” she said. 

According to Vicari, suspension of the air transport agreement is a symbolic political move instead of a tool aimed at triggering a change of behavior from Turkey. 

However, Vicari anticipates that — depending on political developments — the EU may impose targeted measures on those involved in the drillings.


Family backs Tlaib’s decision not to visit Israel

Updated 18 August 2019

Family backs Tlaib’s decision not to visit Israel

  • Israel said a humanitarian travel request by Tlaib would be considered as long as she promised not to promote a boycott against Israel

RAMALLAH: Relatives of a US congresswoman say they support her decision to decline Israel’s offer allowing her to visit them in the West Bank because the “right to travel should be provided to all without any conditions.”

Rashida Tlaib said she would not see her family, even after Israel lifted a ban on her entry, because the government had imposed restrictions on her trip.

“We totally understand her position and support her in her efforts. The right to travel should be provided to all without any conditions,” her uncle Bassam Tlaib told Arab News.

He was speaking from the family home in Beit Ur Al-Fuka, which is 3 km from the West Bank city of Ramallah, and was flanked by his elderly mother.

He said his niece had visited them many times in the past, but there had never been any conditions attached to her travel.

“She said we will meet when she can come without conditions,” Tlaib said. “One idea has been floated of flying the grandmother to the US or finding a way to have the two meetings in a third country. You know my mother is nearing 90 and it is not easy for her to travel but we are checking out all options.”

Tlaib, a Democrat, has criticized Israel’s policy toward Palestinians and had planned to make an official visit to the country.

Israel said a humanitarian travel request by Tlaib would be considered as long as she promised not to promote a boycott against Israel, local media reported.

But the congresswoman, who is Palestinian-American, lashed out on social media.

“I can’t allow the State of Israel to take away that light by humiliating me & use my love for my sity to bow down to their oppressive & racist policies,” she tweeted, using the word sity to refer to her grandmother. “Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me. It would kill a piece of me. I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in — fighting against racism, oppression & injustice.”

The NGO hosting and organizing the trip, Miftah, has been criticized by supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Hanan Ashrawi, the NGO’s founder, said her staff had organized other congressional trips. “This was the third trip we have organized, and we try to do our work professionally and seriously,” Ashrawi told Arab News. “Our very mission is to promote global dialogue and democracy.”

Ashrawi said the attacks on Miftah were unwarranted.  “Miftah has been targeted with the expressed goal of trying to discredit us even though our record is clear. We believe that they are trying to keep organizing congressional delegations within the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) monopoly, while we are trying to provide visitors with an opportunity to learn about Palestinian life under occupation and to understand the Palestinian narrative by providing opportunities for delegations to see and engage with Palestinians of all walks of life.” 

Ashrawi said Miftah had been “vetted” by the US Congress’ ethics committee. “We might not be able to bring hundreds of congress people like AIPAC, but we can bring a few and have them see, hear and interact with Palestinians.”

US President Donald Trump had called on Israel not to allow Tlaib and fellow congresswoman Ilhan Omar into Israel as admitting the two “would show great weakness.”

He tweeted that the pair “hate Israel and all Jewish people, and there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace.”