Jana J. Jabbour, PhD
Political Scientist, Professor at Sciences Po Paris
Associate Fellow, AUB Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy
and International Affairs
In recent months, Turkey has been the subject of a heated debate in Lebanon. Ankara’s proactive and multidimensional diplomacy toward Lebanon, which has materialized in the consolidation of bilateral political ties, the strengthening of economic relations and trade, and the provision of humanitarian and development aid, have raised the profile of Ankara in Lebanon and put the country under the spotlight. The significant expansion of Turkey’s footprint in Lebanon has stirred up controversy over the country’s real aims and intentions. While some prominent political and media figures welcome Turkey’s engagement in Lebanon—perceiving it through the lens of a regional power’s support for a “small state” and considering it in the interest of Lebanon—others suspect Ankara of being driven by imperialist neo-ottoman ambitions, and warn of Turkey’s “hidden agenda” in Lebanon. Rumors about Turkey’s growing influence have also generated security fears as media reports alleged that Turkey is shipping weapons to Lebanon’s north, in an attempt to arm extremist groups and create chaos in the country (Al Arabiya, 2020).
Hence, it is legitimate to ask: what role does Turkey actually play and aims to play in Lebanon? What is Turkey’s “great plan”, if any, for Lebanon? What is real and what is fantasy when it comes to Turkey’s power and influence in Lebanon?
This paper attempts to make sense of Turkey’s interest and role in Lebanon. It examines the drivers of Turkish foreign policy toward Lebanon, elucidating the rationale behind Ankara’s assertiveness and active engagement in the last years. It provides an assessment of what Turkey has thus far achieved, the obstacles and limits it encounters in asserting itself as a regional power, and a key player in the Lebanese arena. Contrary to general perception, the paper contends that despite stepping up initiatives in Lebanon, Turkey has thus far failed to take up a leading role. Turkey’s real power-capacity pales in comparison to other regional powers active in Lebanon.