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Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Image Credit: AP

Even as Arab States are focused on the disruptive Persian mammoth in their midst, Turkey’s military and ideological tentacles are encircling parts of the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. “As we always say, we have no eyes on land, sovereignty, internal affairs of anybody, no country,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says. That assertion is hollow given his country has established bases in Qatar, Somalia, Sudan, Northern Cyprus and Libya. Ankara has just signed a highly controversial maritime agreement with the internationally-recognised pro-Muslim Brotherhood government in Tripoli.

The details are as yet unclear but it purportedly serves to strengthen military ties and delimit maritime jurisdictions in the Mediterranean thereby giving Turkey free rein to drill for oil and gas within previously forbidden waters — or that’s the plan. Egypt, Greece and Cyprus have denounced the deal as a violation of international law particularly as the presence of the Greek island of Crete is situated between the Turkish and Libyan coastlines.

The Turkish president is confident that he retains the backing of his buddies in the White House and the Kremlin that green-lighted the entree of his mercenary forces into northern Syria ostensibly to create a “safe zone”, a misnomer if ever there was one. In reality the area is being systematically ethnically-cleansed of Kurds, Syriacs and Christians to be replaced by millions of refugees, among them hardcore terrorists.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has taken a softly-softly approach fearing hurtling Turkey into the arms of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

- Linda S. Heard, British political columnist

“Executing individuals, pillaging property and blocking displaced people from returning to their homes is damning evidence of why Turkey’s proposed ‘safe zones’ will not be safe,” said Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson. HRW and Amnesty International have accused “Turkish-backed Syrian rebels” of committing war crimes. The UN’s Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria found that groups under Turkey’s control “committed the war crimes of hostage-taking, cruel treatment, torture and pillage.”

America’s abandonment of its Kurdish allies with a sudden troop withdrawal cleared the way for Erdogan’s long-held ambitions. Within no time US tanks rolled back into Syria. However, their mission was not to protect the besieged population but rather the oilfields.

“We are keeping the oil,” announced US President Donald Trump on several occasions, which cannot be characterised other than theft. The uninvited presence of both Turkey’s armed gangs as well as the US military on sovereign Syrian soil is a gross infringement of international law. But in a world where the only right is might who is willing to stand up to be counted?

While it is true that the EU and Nato have expressed grave discomfort over Turkey’s aggression, Erdogan has Europe over a barrel threatening to export millions of refugees as well as detained members of Daesh [the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] to European shores despite receiving billions of euros to keep them corralled.

Macron’s criticisms

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has, however, been outspoken on the topic. “Turkey cannot expect solidarity from Nato allies and at the same time launch an offensive in Syria,” he warned following his controversial statement that the organisation was suffering from “Brain Death” due to its inability to preserve its principle of collective defence.

On Friday, the Turkish president hit back calling Macron’s criticisms “sick and shallow” while warning his French counterpart from any attempt to oust Turkey from the alliance which he says is devoid of any such mechanism. Certainly attendees of a two-day Nato Summit that kicks off in London on Tuesday are braced for fireworks.

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Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has taken a softly-softly approach fearing hurtling Turkey into the arms of Russian President Vladimir Putin. One is left to wonder whether he also deterred by any departure from President Trump’s policy on Syria on the cusp of the UK’s exit from the EU. Erdogan has played the US president nicely.

Trump, whose admiration for strongmen is well known, breached US and Nato rules to permit the Turkish leader to purchase Russian-manufactured S-400 missile defence systems amid Washington’s concerns that US/Nato weapons technology could be shared with Moscow. Conversely, the US secretary of state had no compunction to use double standards warning Egypt it faces sanctions should Cairo that is not a member of Nato take delivery of S-400s on order.

Geopolitics has always been a filthy business peppered with illegal clandestine operations and dirty deals, but until now only the United States, Israel and a few of their allies have basked in virtual impunity. The question is will Turkey be held accountable for its forces’ war crimes and widespread abuses of domestic human rights or has Erdogan been elevated to an honorary member of this hitherto exclusive club?

— Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.