The recent American-Libyan air clash in the Mediterranean has put Turkey in an embarrassing position. The Turkish Foreign Ministry has confined itself to expressing regret in vague terms over such an event and the hope that it will not be repeated.
The Turkish press has been more straightforward in its reaction. Most of the papers have blamed the Reagan administration for acting bluntly and dangerously, without regard for the consequences in this part of the world.
Some Turkish analysts saw the downing of the Libyan planes as another irresponsible move resulting from a desire to prove the military superiority of the United States. But some Turks have privately indicated satisfaction that someone has taught the Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi a lesson.
Turkey, a member of NATO and close ally of the United States (with vital American military bases on its soil), also has good relations with Libya. In fact, Ankara has shown a particular interest the last few years in developing relations with Libya in all fields. Turkish-Libyan trade has grown considerably , and Turkey obtains part of its oil requirements from Libya under favorable credit conditions.
Turkish contractors are now active in the Libyan market, particularly in the building industry which also employs about 40,000 Turkish workers. Turkish firms are engaged in joint ventures in Libya, and Libyan pilots and Air Force officers are trained in Turkish schools.
There is a close political relationship between the two countries -- although Qaddafi's Islamic socialism has little attraction in Turkey except for some extremist circles.
After the air clash in the Mediterranean, both American and Libyan diplomats have been in touch with the Turkish government to explain their version of the incident and possibly to gain its support. But because it is such a delicate situation, Ankara has refrained from taking any definite position on the incident.
Turkey's rapprochement with Libya is part of its policy of developing ties with the Arab world -- a policy which has started to pay dividends.
The policy is aimed particularly at promoting economic relations with Arab countries. Trade with these countries, an insignificant $267 million in 1979, was $471 million in the first four months of 1981 and is expected to reach $1.2 billion by the end of the year.
There are nearly 200 Turkish firms operating now as contractors in Arab lands -- mainly in Libya and Saudi Arabia -- involved in contracts worth $7 billion.
TMore than 100,000 Turkish workers are now employed in Arab countries -- again mainly in Libya and Saudi Arabia -- and the figure is likely to double within a year. The Arab countries are also interested in Turkish engineers, doctors, technicians, pilots, and other professionals, and in sending Arab students to Turkey.
The Turks find these results and the last prospects for future cooperation with the Arab countries encouraging, as they try to overcome both economic problems at home and difficult economic relations with the West.
Turkey is, in fact, discovering a huge market in the Arab world for its agricultural products and industrial goods. This coincides with a reduction of trade with European Community countries. And while the Arab lands open their doors to Turkish labor, Turkish workers no longer can get jobs in the economically depressed countries of Western Europe, which have imposed visa restrictions on the Turks.
Turkey's main interest in the Arab world is oil. It was oil that led Turkey some years ago to reassess its policy towards the Middle East and to adopt a pro-Arab stand.
Turkey's growing economic dependence on the Arabs raises the question of its possible political consequences. The effects have become obvious in many cases, such as the decision to reduce the diplomatic relations with Israel to a minimum; the open support for the Palestine Liberation Organization; the cool attitude toward the US over the idea of a regional security system in the Gulf; and generally the sympathy expressed to almost all the causes defended by teh Arabs.
Some Western observers feel that Turkey may gradually come under stronger Arab pressure and influence because of this growing dependence. They believe that the Turks are already feeling the stress and uneasiness of this policy. But Turkish officials dismiss this possibility and say Turkey will continue to follow a policy of close relations both with the West and the Arab world, despite occasional difficulties. Foreign Minister Ilter Turkmen said recently that Turkey's relations with Western allies and Arab friends "far from being incompatible, are complementary both economically and politically.
"It is out of question that Turkey would turn its back on either for the sake of better relations with the other." he said.
The government's reaction to the American-Libyan crisis is seen here as an example of this attitude.