On the street in Turkey, the decision to deploy troops in Lebanon is unpopular.
Amid strong anti-US and anti-Israeli feeling, the move is widely perceived as serving Israel’s interests. There are also concerns that Turkish troops may have to fire on fellow Muslims.
The prime minister has stressed Ankara’s contingent will pull out of the UN force if asked to disarm Hizbollah – a reassurance that helped facilitate a parliamentary green light.
The outcome is a stark contrast to 2003 when many in his ruling party voted against a government proposal to allow the United States to use Turkish territory for its invasion of Iraq.
Within Turkey’s military, contributing to the mission is seen as a way of raising the country’s international influence as well as a means of checking that of Iran, whose nuclear ambitions worry senior Turkish commanders.
Turkey is no stranger to peacekeeping duties. Its army, the second largest in NATO, has long experience ranging from Kosovo to Afghanistan.
Turkey’s close ties with Lebanon and Iraq as well as Israel make it unique in the region. A visit by Recep Tayyip Erdogan to his then Israeli counterpart Ariel Sharon last year highlighted the two countries’ strong military and economic links.
By sending troops to Lebanon, the EU membership candidate is also sending a strong signal to Brussels – reminding Europeans of how useful it would be to have a large Muslim country within the bloc.
The thorny issue of Cyprus continues to sour negotiations as does a highly critical EU report accusing the would-be member of dragging its heels on reforms. Turkey is the only country to recognize the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. It hopes its engagement – in response to a request from the international community and despite protests at home – can only calm tensions between it and the European Union.
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