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What is Turkey's Stake in Lebanon

What is Turkey's Stake in Lebanon?

Turkey’s mediation efforts in the most recent political crisis in Lebanon in January 2011 are driven by the assessment that a possible conflict would directly threaten Turkey’s interests.

Turkey’s government believes it has a true stake in the resolution of the crisis since Turkey signed a series of free trade and strategic coordination agreements with Lebanon in November 2010. Intent on establishing stability in the region, Turkey consistently supports policies, such as visa liberation, free trade, and strategic cooperation councils, as a way to establish and maintain peace and stability in its neighborhood. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan expressed his discontent with the Israeli violations of Lebanese air space and waters as early as January 2010. Such criticism derives partly from Turkey’s pledge (made after the Mavi Marmara incident) to discredit in all international arenas what Turkey views as Israel’s harmful policies. Given Turkey’s persistent critique of Israeli policies since the infamous Davos crisis, this should come as no surprise. However, this was also aimed at affirming Lebanon’s sovereignty while opposing policies detrimental to regional stability.

When Erdogan paid a two-day visit to Lebanon in November 2010, he signed a series of bilateral agreements to establish a free-trade zone and a high-level strategic cooperation council — similar to those already in place with Greece and Syria. During his visit, Erdogan said that Turkey did not want political instability, which would result from the international tribunal’s report on the Hariri assassination. When the Lebanese government collapsed in early January 2011, Turkey was one of the first countries to get involved especially because political instability and possible conflict in Lebanon could jeopardize a future free-trade region between Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon and deepen cooperation with Lebanon. Turkey’s regional activism has received international criticism, however. Analysts often ignore the level of domestic support Turkish foreign policy receives. It used to be that Turkey established its foreign policy independent of and often against its own public opinion but that is no longer the case. Since 2003, when the Turkish parliament opposed the passage of American troops through Turkey to facilitate the US invasion of Iraq, public opinion in Turkey has been instrumental in determining foreign policy. Turkish public opinion has been sensitive to Middle Eastern affairs especially because of the Iraq wars’ impact on Turkey’s security and economic outlook. There are segments of the Turkish foreign policy establishment, which still have reservations about Turkey’s increased international profile. However, when Turkey’s security interests are concerned, there is a high degree of support. A recent opinion poll shows that Turks identify the Mavi Marmara incident as the second most important event of 2010 after the September 2010 referendum. The same poll finds that Davutoglu is the “most liked minister” in the cabinet. Turkey’s mediation efforts in the Lebanese political crisis should be seen in this light. Turkish foreign policy is broadly supported not only by the Turkish public but also by the powerful institutions such as the Turkish military. This is clear from Turkey’s policy change towards the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq over the last two years as well as the row with Israel over the Mavi Marmara incident. This was arguably one of the most difficult decisions for the Turkish army as KRG was seen hostile to Turkish interests for a long time.

Turkish army dropped its purely security oriented “hard power” approach to northern Iraq and is supporting Turkish government’s initiatives to engage the KRG. At the beginning of the Lebanese mediation efforts, there were calls for an international meeting to solve the crisis and Erdogan accepted French President Sarkozy’s call for an international meeting on Lebanon. However, the newly appointed Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi urged a solution “from within the region.” Davuto