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Erdogan Moves To Expel Ambassadors of 10 Western Countries
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during a commemorative ceremony marking the fifth anniversary of the failed coup agaisnt him at the Turkish Grand National Assembly in Ankara, Turkey on July 15, 2021. (Adem Altan/AFP via Getty Images)

Erdogan Moves To Expel Ambassadors of 10 Western Countries

Turkish president is facing increased domestic pressure amid deteriorating economy

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan moved closer to expelling the ambassadors of some of his country’s top allies on Saturday when he said that he had ordered the officials be called “persona non grata,” the last step before expulsion, following criticism over the detention of a civil rights activist.

The remarks come after months in which Erdogan has tried to rebuild ties with countries in the West and Middle East amid Turkey’s struggling economy, a plunging lira and a decrease in support for his Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The ambassadors of the United States, Germany, France, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland and New Zealand, in a statement issued on October 18, called for a resolution to the case of Osman Kavala, a philanthropist who has been behind bars since 2017.

Kavala has been accused of organizing mass anti-government protests as well as taking part in the failed 2016 coup attempt; he denies the accusations.

“I gave the necessary order to our foreign minister and said what must be done: these 10 ambassadors must be declared persona non grata at once. You will sort it out immediately,” Erdogan said Saturday during a speech in northwestern Turkey, the Reuters news agency reported.

Most of the ambassadors represent countries that are Turkey’s NATO allies, while Germany is one of Turkey’s most important trading partners.

Turkey’s main opposition leader tweeted soon after the remarks that Erdogan was attempting to find a false justification for the poor economy by ordering the designation of the ambassadors as persona non grata.

“This aggressive stance in foreign policy [that] we have seen has been an ebb and flow for the last years,” said Kristian Brakel, an Istanbul-based foreign policy analyst with the Heinrich Böll Foundation.

Brakel told The Media Line that it is unlikely that ties with the US and Europe will significantly improve because Erdogan believes he needs to move toward an authoritarian position to remain in power.

I gave the necessary order to our foreign minister and said what must be done: these 10 ambassadors must be declared persona non grata at once

The Turkish president is keen to strengthen relations with wealthy countries as his country’s economy continues to struggle with rising inflation and historic lows for the Turkish lira.

Many believe that is the cause of AKP’s decreasing popularity as Erdogan faces an emboldened opposition that has won key local elections.

Ankara already has had difficulty making inroads with Washington, which kicked Turkey out of a fighter jet program due to its arms deal with Russia.

The same is true of Erdogan’s attempts to thaw relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

“All of this is triggering a lot of frustration and also a lot of resentment,” according to Gallia Lindenstrauss, a senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies who specializes in Turkish foreign policy. This, she said, is “fueling a more antagonistic and provocative foreign policy.”

On Thursday, the Turkish pro-government newspaper Sabah reported that Turkey caught 15 alleged spies in the country who were providing Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency with information on both Turkish and foreign citizens, in the latest chapter of deteriorating ties between the two countries.

The newspaper did not name its sources and the Turkish government did not respond to The Media Line’s request to confirm or deny the report.

“The fact that such things are publicized in pro-government newspapers adds to the mistrust [of] Ankara,” Lindenstrauss said. “We’re starting from a place where the situation between the countries is still very tense.”

Lindenstrauss said she doubted there would be any public reaction to the alleged spy story from the Israeli government and that the two countries have attempted to separate politics from their financial ties.

Israel formed a rare alliance with Turkey, building strong trade relations and normalizing ties in 2016. However, a 2018 dispute led to the expulsion of both countries’ ambassadors and Jerusalem and Ankara have traded barbs ever since.

This aggressive stance in foreign policy [that] we have seen has been an ebb and flow for the last years

Israel has accused Turkey of supporting the Hamas terror group and has said such support must stop for ties to strengthen.

Gabriel Mitchell, a policy fellow at the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, agreed that Israel is unlikely to comment on the matter since it normally does not do so when there are accusations involving the Mossad.

However, he said the story would likely harm relations if it is true.

Mitchell said the story could be an attempt to derail or redirect diplomatic efforts, in light of Turkey’s attempt to improve relations with Israel in the last few months.

He added that the story could also be used to boost domestic popularity in Turkey where anti-Israeli sentiment is widespread.

“The fact that this story is coming up just further demonstrates, perhaps, the divide between the parties,” Mitchell said.

Brakel said that while Turkey has strategic and economic reasons to maintain ties with Israel, Erdogan also may be influenced by domestic pressure to be tough on Israel due to what many in the country see as human rights violations toward the Palestinians.

“This dilemma is really, really hard to solve,” Brakel said.

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