What does Turkey want in Lebanon?

What does Turkey really want in Lebanon? A visit to Beirut on Tuesday by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut usoglu reopened the debate, in a context where Gulf countries have nearly cut ties with Lebanon, leaving a “Sunni void” to fill. While Ankara has gained massive influence in the region in recent years, promoting theories of a return to the Ottoman Empire, it is still moving slowly on the Lebanese scene, where its ambitions are confirmed by much. is less. “Turkey has no political projects in Lebanon and does not want to provoke anyone,” a Turkish official told OLJ on condition of anonymity. During his visit, the foreign minister stressed the need to “remove Lebanese from the regional impasse”, while officials said behind the scenes that Turkey is “not one to replace anyone”. “With the formation of the Mikati government, preparations for the yatra had begun,” the official said. The prime minister was invited to visit Turkey on 1 October, long before Saudi Arabia announced the virtual break of its diplomatic ties with Lebanon.

That Ankara does not want to replace Saudi Arabia on the Lebanese scene is agreed upon by everyone, even its critics. But the latter doubt Turkey’s power to play a role in the Land of the Cedars, due to its desire for power in the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean, and the presence of a Turkmen population in Lebanon. She could bow down.

“Grey Wolves”

“If there is one Turk left on earth, he will build a new nation,” says a Turk from the legend of the “Grey Wolves” (Boskert). It is a strategy of slowly moving among the local population to gain influence that Turkey can implement in Lebanon. In a column published in Al-Jumhoria on the day of his visit to Beirut, the head of Turkish diplomacy highlights the deep cultural ties, history and common geography that bind the two countries, as the “nation of Turkey” has always been. is present in Lebanon.

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French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian first raised the issue of the Turkish project in Lebanon in 2020. Lebanese officials said the minister told them during a visit to Lebanon that they should anticipate Turkey’s plans which it was preparing to develop further. its presence in the country. At the time, Turkey, which has close ties with several confederations in northern Lebanon, was accused of organizing protest movements, particularly in Tripoli, but this was vehemently denied by Turkish officials and the Turkish embassy in Beirut.

Two main reasons prompted the French minister to take up the matter. The first is due to the discovery by France in 2020 of a large Turkish influence on French territory, including the financing of several mosques and religious centres. In the process the Turkish ultranationalist group “Grey Wolf” was disbanded. The second pertains to the competition that is played between two powers in the eastern Mediterranean. In opposition to Turkey, Paris forms an axis with Athens, Tel Aviv, Cairo, Nicosia and Abu Dhabi. Tensions between the two countries peaked in the summer of 2020, following an incident involving Turkish ships and a French frigate. Following the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron the day after the explosion at the port of Beirut, Ankara sent a delegation of officials to counter the French project.

Turkey’s strategy in Lebanon is part of its more general view of the eastern Mediterranean, a region rich in hydrocarbons that has become an area of ​​competition between rival axes. “We have no plans for political, military or security interference in Lebanon, but do wish to cooperate on issues of oil and gas exploitation,” a Turkish official told L’OLJ. Turkey intends to participate in the reconstruction of the port of Beirut, linking the port of Mersin with Tripoli, and preparing for the construction of a railway between the capital and the north.

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But Turkey is also taking keen interest in the issue of demarcation. In 2011, when Nagib Mikati was already head of government, the Prime Minister of Lebanon informed his Turkish counterpart that Lebanon would not demarcate maritime borders with Cyprus without coordination with Turkey.

gas pipeline

Ankara considers the oil and gas dossier a priority and strategic at this stage. Its project is to make its gas pipelines a common route to Europe for various countries in the region. Turkey does not want the volume of the extracted gas to travel from Greece to Europe, and is betting that since no other gas pipelines exist in the region, everyone can take its side, which will carry it to Bulgaria and from there. Connects to Europe. This same ambition has encouraged Turkey to strengthen its ties with Egypt and Israel and to advance its pawn in Lebanon.

Ankara is focusing on the need to connect Lebanon to its gas pipelines, betting that the cost of transportation through the Turkish gas pipeline will be much cheaper than by sea. This interest causes Turkey to extend its support to the Lebanese naval forces, a topic discussed during the visit of the army commander, Joseph Aun, to Ankara last September.

In the Lebanese file, “Çavusoglu intends to send an indirect message to the Americans and Saudis”, confirms the said Turkish official. Ankara blames the Saudis for leaving Lebanon while trying to force the United States to agree with Israel only on the issue of maritime borders and on Beirut, hence the need for government support. He also said that according to sources after the case, he is ready to establish an alternative maritime commercial line to the Gulf Line from Beirut to Mersin to transport Lebanese goods and products.

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What does Turkey really want in Lebanon? A visit to Beirut on Tuesday by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut usoglu reopened the debate, in a context where Gulf countries have nearly cut ties with Lebanon, leaving a “Sunni void” to fill. While in recent years Ankara has exerted great influence in this field, making fuel …

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