Turkiye’s new foreign minister must chart course through evolving global landscape

Turkey's Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan (R) talks during a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (unseen) on the first day of the Ukraine Recovery Conference in London on June 21, 2023. (AFP)
Turkey's Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan (R) talks during a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (unseen) on the first day of the Ukraine Recovery Conference in London on June 21, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 08 July 2023
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Turkiye’s new foreign minister must chart course through evolving global landscape

Turkiye’s new foreign minister must chart course through evolving global landscape
  • Analysts speculate on Hakan Fidan’s approach to foreign-policy challenges

ANKARA: Following President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s reelection in late May, Turkiye’s foreign policy is in the spotlight once again with the appointment of Hakan Fidan as the country’s new foreign minister.

As Turkiye’s diplomatic leadership undergoes a transition, observers are waiting to see what direction the country will take under Fidan’s guidance.

It is generally believed that little will change, except that Turkiye may take a more assertive stance with an emphasis both on normalization efforts and on institutionalizing a security-guided foreign-policy approach, since Fidan’s doctoral studies focused on the role of intelligence in foreign policy.

The 55-year-old minister is a highly influential figure in Turkiye, having served as the country’s chief of intelligence from 2010 to 2023, orchestrating several reconciliation initiatives with Middle Eastern countries including Syria, Israel, and Egypt.

Financing the current account deficit will remain a top priority, and this may lead Turkiye to pursue more positive relations with Western allies.

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Analyst

Renowned for his negotiation skills, Fidan played a direct role in high-level meetings, showcasing his ability to navigate complex geopolitical issues and grasp the intricacies of domestic dynamics in other countries.

Fidan met with the Syrian intelligence chief several times to lay the groundwork for political talks between Damascus and Ankara in 2022, suggesting that further steps may be taken to normalize relations with the Assad regime and to address security concerns related to the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Turkiye equates to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

In addition to his experience in hard diplomacy, Fidan previously led the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency, the country’s international aid agency, expanding Turkiye’s soft power through infrastructural and humanitarian assistance in the Balkans, Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia.

His previous role as Turkiye’s representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency also acquainted him with nuclear negotiations involving Iran.

Fidan’s appointment is widely interpreted as a signal of Ankara’s desire to pursue a more active role in regional and global matters.

As foreign minister, Fidan will face the challenge of negotiating with Western powers over several thorny issues, including Sweden’s potential membership of NATO and the delivery of F-16 fighter jets from the US.

On Thursday, Fidan held talks in Brussels with NATO’s top official Jens Stoltenberg. Ankara is insisting that Sweden must align with the recent legal amendments on anti-terror law that Turkiye pushed for, which would allow Swedish authorities to prosecute individuals who support terrorist groups.

“Sweden took some steps concerning legal changes and removing defense-industry restrictions against Turkiye. Those legal changes should now be put into practice,” Fidan said.

Whether Washington will approve the sale of F-16s in return for Turkiye agreeing to Sweden’s ascension is still unclear. Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of senators told US President Joe Biden that Congress should not consider the sale until Turkiye ratifies Sweden’s membership of NATO.

According to Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the US, Fidan is well respected in Washington and in European capitals. “This is an advantage at the outset of his tenure as foreign minister,” he told Arab News.

Recently, Fidan met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in London, where Blinken referred to him as a “colleague of many years.” The situation in Ukraine and NATO’s expansion topped the agenda during their meeting.

Experts do not anticipate any drastic changes in Turkiye’s foreign policy, expecting Fidan to prioritize continuity over major shifts.

“First and foremost, Fidan is Erdogan’s foreign minister, as (his predecessor, Mevlut) Cavusoglu was, and will conduct foreign policy based on the political directives he receives from the president. He was very active in foreign policy as the head of Turkish intelligence and played a role in most key policy areas,” Unluhisarcikli said.

However, given the ongoing depreciation of the Turkish lira and soaring inflation rates, Turkish foreign policy is likely to be closely tied to the country’s economic well-being, which relies heavily on foreign currency.

“I still expect changes in Turkish foreign policy in the upcoming period. Financing the current account deficit will remain a top priority, and this may lead Turkiye to pursue more positive relations with Western allies,” explained Unluhisarcikli.

He also said that, in the short term, assistance from Russia and the Gulf could help address the deficit, but accessing Western financial markets in the medium term would be crucial.

To bolster Turkiye’s strained economy, President Erdogan plans to visit Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE from July 17-19. He is expected to seek direct investments from Gulf countries — initially of approximately $10 billion, potentially rising to $30 billion — particularly in the energy, infrastructure, and defense sectors, according to Reuters.

Independent policy analyst Fuad Shahbazov suggests that, unlike Cavusoglu, Fidan may provide some flexibility.

“Cavusoglu was more concerned about diplomatic etiquette — trying to circumvent harsh rhetoric — but Fidan is a key ally of President Erdogan and a supporter of his conservative and pragmatic foreign policy, even at the cost of partnership with some Western countries,” Shahbazov told Arab News.

Shahbazov acknowledges that Fidan’s portfolio regarding Western and Central Asian networks may be somewhat limited, but believes this will not pose a problem.

“I don’t expect U-turns in diplomatic thaws with Egypt and Israel, as he is the mastermind of the process and will likely follow up on it promptly,” Shahbazov concluded.

The Turkish and Egyptian presidents are set to meet on July 27 in Turkiye.

 


Iran’s Tasnim news agency: Iran made sea-launched ballistic missile available to Houthis

Iran’s Tasnim news agency: Iran made sea-launched ballistic missile available to Houthis
Updated 6 min 59 sec ago
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Iran’s Tasnim news agency: Iran made sea-launched ballistic missile available to Houthis

Iran’s Tasnim news agency: Iran made sea-launched ballistic missile available to Houthis
  • Iran’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment
  • Iran is armed with the largest number of ballistic missiles in the region

DUBAI: Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency reported on Wednesday that Tehran’s sea-launched ballistic missile Ghadr has been made available to Yemen’s Houthis.
“Iran’s sea-launched ballistic missile, named Ghadr, now has been made available to Yemen’s (Houthi) fighters,” — reported Tasnim, which is believed to be affiliated to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.
“Now, the missile … has become a weapon capable of presenting serious challenges to the interests of the United States and its main ally in the region, the Zionist regime,” Tasnim said.
Iran’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Iran supports the Houthis but has repeatedly denied arming the group.
The Houthis have been attacking shipping lanes in and around the Red Sea to show support for Palestinians in the Gaza war impacting a shipping route vital to trade.
According to the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Iran is armed with the largest number of ballistic missiles in the region. It is also a major producer of drones.


Turkiye’s Erdogan says ‘spirit of United Nations dead in Gaza’

Turkiye’s Erdogan says ‘spirit of United Nations dead in Gaza’
Updated 37 min 18 sec ago
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Turkiye’s Erdogan says ‘spirit of United Nations dead in Gaza’

Turkiye’s Erdogan says ‘spirit of United Nations dead in Gaza’
  • Calls on the ‘Islamic world’ to react after the latest deadly Israeli strikes in Gaza
  • Turkish premier hits out at fellow Muslim-majority countries for failing to take common action over the Israeli strike

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday hit out at the United Nations and called on the “Islamic world” to react after the latest deadly Israeli strikes in Gaza.
“The UN cannot even protect its own staff. What are you waiting for to act? The spirit of the United Nations is dead in Gaza,” Erdogan told lawmakers from his AKP party.
Erdogan’s comments came as the UN Security Council met to discuss a deadly Israeli attack on a displacement camp west of Rafah on Tuesday that killed 21 people, according to a civil defense official in Hamas-run Gaza.
The Turkish premier also hit out at fellow Muslim-majority countries for failing to take common action over the Israeli strike.
“I have some words to say to the Islamic world: what are you waiting for to take a common decision?” Erdogan, who leads a Muslim-majority country of 85 million people, told lawmakers from his AKP party.
“Israel is not just a threat to Gaza but to all of humanity,” he said.
“No state is safe as long as Israel does not follow international law and does not feel bound by international law,” Erdogan added, repeating an accusation that Israel is committing “genocide” in Gaza.


Three Israeli soldiers killed in combat in southern Gaza, military says

Three Israeli soldiers killed in combat in southern Gaza, military says
Updated 29 May 2024
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Three Israeli soldiers killed in combat in southern Gaza, military says

Three Israeli soldiers killed in combat in southern Gaza, military says
  • Israeli forces have kept up their offensive in Rafah, defying an order from the International Court of Justice

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said three soldiers had been killed in combat in southern Gaza on Wednesday, as it pressed ahead with its offensive in Rafah.
Three more soldiers were badly wounded in the same incident, the military said, though it provided no further details. Israel’s public broadcaster Kan radio said they were injured by an explosive device set off in a building in Rafah.
Defying an order from the International Court of Justice, Israeli forces have kept up their offensive in Rafah, where they aim to root out the last major intact formations of Hamas fighters and rescue hostages.
International unease over Israel’s three-week-old Rafah offensive has turned to outrage since an airstrike on Sunday set off a blaze in a tent camp in a western district of the city, killing at least 45 people.
Israel said it had been targeting two senior Hamas operatives and had not intended to cause civilian casualties. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “something unfortunately went tragically wrong.”
The Israeli military said it was investigating the possibility that munitions stored near a compound targeted by Sunday’s airstrike may have ignited.
Israel told around one million Palestinian civilians displaced by the almost eight-month-old war to evacuate from Rafah before launching its incursion in early May. Around that many have fled the city since then, according to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.
On Tuesday, the United States, Israel’s closest ally, reiterated its opposition to a major Israeli ground offensive in Rafah but said it did not believe such an operation was under way.


Syrians in Lebanon fear unprecedented restrictions, deportations

Syrians in Lebanon fear unprecedented restrictions, deportations
Updated 29 May 2024
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Syrians in Lebanon fear unprecedented restrictions, deportations

Syrians in Lebanon fear unprecedented restrictions, deportations
  • Lebanon remains home to the largest refugee population per capita in the world: roughly 1.5 million Syrians
  • Five million Syrian refugees who spilled out of Syria into neighboring countries, while millions more are displaced within Syria

BEKAA VALLEY: The soldiers came before daybreak, singling out the Syrian men without residence permits from the tattered camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. As toddlers wailed around them, Mona, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon for a decade, watched Lebanese troops shuffle her brother onto a truck headed for the Syrian border.
Thirteen years since Syria’s conflict broke out, Lebanon remains home to the largest refugee population per capita in the world: roughly 1.5 million Syrians — half of whom are refugees formally registered with the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR — in a country of approximately 4 million Lebanese.
They are among some five million Syrian refugees who spilled out of Syria into neighboring countries, while millions more are displaced within Syria. Donor countries in Brussels this week pledged fewer funds in Syria aid than last year.
With Lebanon struggling to cope with an economic meltdown that has crushed livelihoods and most public services, its chronically underfunded security forces and typically divided politicians now agree on one thing: Syrians must be sent home.
Employers have been urged to stop hiring Syrians for menial jobs. Municipalities have issued new curfews and have even evicted Syrian tenants, two humanitarian sources told Reuters. At least one township in northern Lebanon has shuttered an informal camp, sending Syrians scattering, the sources said.
Lebanese security forces issued a new directive this month shrinking the number of categories through which Syrians can apply for residency — frightening many who would no longer qualify for legal status and now face possible deportation.
Lebanon has organized voluntary returns for Syrians, through which 300 traveled home in May. But more than 400 have also been summarily deported by the Lebanese army, two humanitarian sources told Reuters, caught in camp raids or at checkpoints set up to identify Syrians without legal residency.
They are automatically driven across the border, refugees and humanitarian workers say, fueling concerns about rights violations, forced military conscription or arbitrary detention.
Mona, who asked to change her name in fear of Lebanese authorities, said her brother was told to register with Syria’s army reserves upon his entry. Fearing a similar fate, the rest of the camp’s men no longer venture out.
“None of the men can pick up their kids from school, or go to the market to get things for the house. They can’t go to any government institutions, or hospital, or court,” Mona said.
She must now care for her brother’s children, who were not deported, through an informal job she has at a nearby factory. She works at night to evade checkpoints along her commute.
’Wrong $ not sustainable’
Lebanon has deported refugees in the past, and political parties have long insisted parts of Syria are safe enough for large-scale refugee returns.
But in April, the killing of a local Lebanese party official blamed on Syrians touched off a concentrated campaign of anti-refugee sentiment.
Hate speech flourished online, with more than 50 percent of the online conversation about refugees in Lebanon focused on deporting them and another 20 percent referring to Syrians as an “existential threat,” said Lebanese research firm InflueAnswers.
The tensions have extended to international institutions. Lebanon’s foreign minister has pressured UNHCR’s representative to rescind a request to halt the new restrictions and lawmakers slammed a one billion euro aid package from the European Union as a “bribe” to keep hosting refugees.
“This money that the EU is sending to the Syrians, let them send it to Syria,” said Roy Hadchiti, a media representative for the Free Patriotic Movement, speaking at an anti-refugee rally organized by the conservative Christian party.
He, like a growing number of Lebanese, complained that Syrian refugees received more aid than desperate Lebanese. “Go see them in the camps — they have solar panels, while Lebanese can’t even afford a private generator subscription,” he said.
The UN still considers Syria unsafe for large-scale returns and said rising anti-refugee rhetoric is alarming.
“I am very concerned because it can result in... forced returns, which are both wrong and not sustainable,” UNHCR head Filippo Grandi told Reuters.
“I understand the frustrations in host countries — but please don’t fuel it further.”
Zeina, a Syrian refugee who also asked her name be changed, said her husband’s deportation last month left her with no work or legal status in an increasingly hostile Lebanese town.
Returning has its own dangers: her children were born in Lebanon and do not have Syrian ID cards, and her home in Homs province remains in ruins since a 2012 government strike that forced her to flee.
“Even now, when I think of those days, and I think of my parents or anyone else going back, they can’t. The house is flattened. What kind of return is that?” she said.


Palestinian militants release video of Israeli hostage alive in Gaza

Palestinian militants release video of Israeli hostage alive in Gaza
Updated 29 May 2024
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Palestinian militants release video of Israeli hostage alive in Gaza

Palestinian militants release video of Israeli hostage alive in Gaza

GAZA STRIP: Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad released a video on Tuesday showing an Israeli hostage alive and held in the Gaza Strip.

The captive, identified by Israeli media as Sasha Trupanov, 28, is seen speaking in Hebrew in the 30-second clip.

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum campaign group identified him as Alexander (Sasha) Trupanov, and called on the Israeli authorities to secure the release of all captives held in Gaza.

It was unclear when the footage, in which he is seen wearing a T-shirt, was taken.

Trupanov, a Russian-Israeli dual national, was captured on October 7 from Kibbutz Nir Oz along with his mother, grandmother and girlfriend.

The three women were freed during a truce between Hamas and Israel at the end of November, which led to the release of 105 hostages.

“Seeing my Sasha on television today is very heartening, but it also breaks my heart that he has been in captivity for such a long time,” said his mother, Yelena Trupanov, in a short message published by the families’ forum.

Israel’s government has instructed its negotiating team to continue talks with mediators to secure a deal for the release of the hostages, but no new round of talks has begun.

“The Israeli government must give a significant mandate to the negotiating team, which will be able to lead to a deal for the return of all the hostages — the living to rehabilitation and the murdered to burial,” a families’ forum statement said after the release of Trupanov’s video.

Trupanov’s father was killed in the October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,096 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.