Trend Middle East Desk Commentator, Ulviyya Sadikhova
Perhaps, after the end of the Israel - Hamas war in the Gaza Strip in January, 2009, Turkey did not seek to solve the acute problems in the Middle East with such zeal, as it has shown in the last two months.
Ankara made its debut in the Middle East by nominating itself as the chief mediator in the resolution of the Syrian-Iraqi dispute, which erupted after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused the Syrian regime of sheltering organizers of two major terrorist attacks on Baghdad, which killed nearly 100 people.
Although Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davudoglu said his country does not mediate in the reconciliation of Damascus and Baghdad, since the very beginning of disagreements Davudoglu has met with Bashar al-Assad in Damascus and then with al-Maliki in Baghdad.
At a meeting of the League of Arab States in Cairo the Arab countries acknowledged Turkey's success in preventing acute Syria-Iraq conflict.
In fact, Ankara needs to pacify the situation in the Middle East, which went out of control as a result of constant internal collisions. One can mention several reasons, but the most prominent are two: the fight against the separatists of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the immense progress in relations with Syria.
Regarding the PKK matter, the Iraqi government has never been the best assistant for Turkey. Firstly, views on cooperation with Turkey in the fighting against separatists, who are based in the north, have split up in Iraq. Despite President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd by origin, expressed his full support in the fight against PKK terrorists in Iraq, the issue of an independent Kurdistan is still questionable. Analysts also believe the Shiite parties in Iraq, including al-Maliki's party, are unlikely to disregard the Kurdish political organizations on the eve of elections in January 2010. Therefore, Turkey will not benefit from the agreement with Iraq to cooperate against the PKK. Taking into account the internal weakness of Iraqi state power due to the struggle among of pro-Iranian Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni parties, new differences with Syria could offer a ground for further division of the country. Realizing this risk and the fear that the PKK will take advantage of the situation to strengthen fighting, Turkey demanded the Iraqi authorities to clarify accusations against Damascus and provide substantial evidence.
Besides, a slight warming has been observed recently between the Iraqi pro-Iranian bloc and Turkey. One of the most influential Iraqi Shiite leaders, Muqtada al-Sadr, visited Turkey in summer.
The cooperation with Syria in the fight against PKK terrorists is another issue. Though the PKK issue was about to cause the Syria -Turkey war ten years ago, now this is one of the pillars of relations between the two countries. Syria, where head of the Kurdistan Workers Party, Abdullah Ocalan, hid more than ten years ago, stated on its readiness to open its borders to the Syrian citizens of Kurdish origin, who are fighting against the Turkish government in mountainous areas, if the latter lay down their arms against Ankara.
It seems Syria could not offer better one, because Turkey virtually received a guarantee and the place, where it will be able to banish the terrorists and extremists, whereas the Kurdistan administration of Iraq and the Kurdish parties in Iraq do not give any guarantee to Ankara in suppressing the PKK.
It is interesting, since 2008, Turkey has focused on improving relations with Syria. Turkey started with the weak point - negotiations with Israel and the returning of the Golan Heights. Although a year later Turkey's mediation failed, Syria and Israel were able to come together in only one - both were satisfied with Ankara's role.
In addition, Turkey's rapprochement with Syria is not accidental. Damascus - Iran's main ally among the Arab countries - has a direct impact on the internal situation in Lebanon, where a pro-Iranian Party of Hezbollah operates. More likely, Turkey wants to participate in an internal crisis in Lebanon and the Palestinian split, as well as to find alternative routes to Iran through Syria, given the ambitions to assume the role of chief peacemaker in the Middle East.
Cooperation with Turkey is advantageous also for Syria, especially to improve relations with Sunni and pro-Western Arab countries.
Al-Assad's surprising visit to Riyadh on Wednesday, following the Turkish president's meeting with King Abdullah II in Jeddah, was the first signal that Damascus resumed dialogue with the Saudis, who will have a direct impact on the political crisis in Lebanon, shaken by grim struggle for power between the pro-Saudi majority of Saad al-Hariri and the pro-Syrian opposition Hezbollah. Analysts predicted that the formation of government in Lebanon will delay until Syria and Saudi Arabia come to an agreement. However, Syria and the Saudi kingdom have very different interests in Lebanon and now Turkey, which is one of the largest Sunni countries, interferes in the dialogue. Ankara wants to show Saudi Arabia that it could persuade Syria to take a more moderate position in Lebanon. Al-Assad's visit to Riyadh, on the backdrop of the refusal of the Saudi king Abdullah II to visit Damascus, is a great chance for Syria to demonstrate its "humility" in the Middle East policy and select a diplomatic way to solve the Arabian interior problems.
Experts believe that attraction of Syria to the pro-Western Ankara is a hidden attempt to weaken Iran.
Ankara has never had open tensions with Tehran and even enshrined Iran the right to peaceful atom in the issue of nuclear program. However, speaking to the 64th UN General Assembly in New York, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan supported Russia's plan and the United States to clear up the Middle East from nuclear weapons. Is Turkey decided to throw down a secret challenge to Iran? Although nuclear program exists in Israel and will soon appear in Saudi Arabia, it is still associated with the enrichment of uranium by Iran. Does Turkey strive for a new mediation in the nuclear program between Tehran and Western countries, what had Davudoglu hinted at during a visit to Iran?
To prove and to demonstrate the effectiveness of its diplomacy in the Middle East - that is what Turkey wants to demonstrate to the West. Still the old interests of the Middle East will define whether Turkey will achieve it easily and what else Ankara has to do.