Former Turkish foreign minister warns against Ankara’s policies in Libya and Syria

“It [Erdogan’s policy in the Eastern Mediterranean] makes us ask questions about the dangers besetting Turkey through its immersion in Libya," said Yasar Yakis
Sunday 23/02/2020
Speakers at the European Parliament conference “Turkish Intervention in the Mediterranean: Causes, Targets and Dangers?” in Brussels, February 18. (Al Arab)
Wariness. Speakers at the European Parliament conference “Turkish Intervention in the Mediterranean: Causes, Targets and Dangers?” in Brussels, February 18. (Al Arab)

PARIS - In interviews published by French newspaper L’Opinion and Belgian daily La Libre Belgique, former Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis did not mince words about the dangers of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policies in Syria and in Libya.

Yakis, who was Erdogan’s minister of foreign affairs from 2003-04 and one of the founders of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), accused Erdogan of reneging on his commitments in Syria.

“President Erdogan went to the Sochi and Astana meetings [with Russian and Iranian leaders], which were sanctioned by official statements that confirm the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syria. However, the intervention of the Turkish Army in ldlib does not match the commitments made during these meetings,” Yakis told the L’Opinion in an interview published February 21.

Yakis criticised Turkey’s involvement in Libya. “Turkey wants to expand its influence whenever it has the means to do so but its chances of success in Libya are slim,” he said.

This is “because of the distance (separating Turkey from Libya) and because of the multiplicity of the forces (involved) on the other. (Libyan National Army Field-Marshal Khalifa) Haftar controls more than three-quarters of Libya and is blocking oil production. Then there is Egypt, on the eastern border, which can intervene at any time.”

Yakis said: “Most Turks consider that their army has nothing to do in this conflict as well as in the Syrian crisis to a lesser extent. In fact, President Erdogan is intervening more for political reasons, to support the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya. He takes the risk of jeopardising his relationship with countries like Tunisia and Algeria, hostile to any outside interference. The other risk is that the Libyan conflict turns into a ‘new Syria’.”

Yakis, who was one of the enthusiastic promoters of having his country join the European Union, said he has no illusions about possible Turkish ties to Europe.

“Erdogan has long lost the trust of Europeans. There is no shortage of subjects of tension between the EU and Turkey, such as the question of refugees, the future of Cyprus, the accession to the European Union, the exploitation of hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean where Turkey is in competition with Greece, Syria and Israel. I do not see how relations could improve in the near future. Too many issues remain unresolved,” he said.

Yakis expressed regret about Turkey’s regional and international isolation. “The different parties that came from the Muslim Brotherhood matrix have been rejected by society in many countries such as Egypt. Even in Turkey, the AKP is questioned and gathers less than 50% of the voters. Not very well seen in the Arab countries, the political-religious movement of the Muslim Brotherhood is losing momentum, even if its history is far from over,” he said.

In La Libre Belgique, Yakis stressed that the Turkey’s approach would accentuate the crises in the region. Even as it is trying to position itself in Libya for energy considerations, Turkey is entering a “highly daring bet where the risks of failure are enormous,” he said.

Yakis was among the speakers at a conference on “Turkish intervention in the Mediterranean” February 18 at the European parliament where he drew parallels between Ankara’s intervention in the Eastern Mediterranean, specifically gas exploration off the coast of Cyprus, and its military intervention in Libya.

He said Ankara signed a military cooperation agreement with the Tripoli government to gain influence in the Eastern Mediterranean after it found itself cut out of a lucrative pipeline agreement between Israel, Greece and Cyprus.

Yakis described the Libyan government as being “controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood and militias linked to terrorist organisations.”

He said Libya could become a “new Syria” because Ankara did not have a “clear-cut policy” on how to get out of the conflict. “The unclear Turkish foreign policy by Erdogan may put Turkey in grave danger due to this expansion towards Libya,” he added.

Other conference participants questioning Turkey’s foreign policy in the Eastern Mediterranean included Cyprus MEP Costas Mavrides, chairman of the European Parliament’s Political Committee for the Mediterranean. Mavrides called Erdogan out for what he described as Ankara’s support for terrorist organisations, such as the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra and the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Erdogan’s policies threaten the stability of the Mediterranean… and there is no role for Turkey in Libya, therefore its interference will turn Libya into another Syria,” Mavrides said.

Magnus Norell, a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the conference that Ankara had firmly moved on from its so-called policy of “zero problems with neighbours” to a more aggressive and expansionist policy. “These expansionist options are becoming a burden for Turkey and have created problems for him [Erdogan] with countries in the region,” he added.

Norell called on Europe to do more to intervene to stop arms exports to Libya, especially weapons from Turkey, warning that the influx of military materiel in the North African country could threaten Mediterranean countries in the future.