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The New Turkey
Israel - Middle East
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Alf Cengia

I'm not particularly astute about politics let alone Middle East affairs, but there's one sure thing about observing them - at least for me it's never boring. If it's not the ranting about "illegal" building in Jerusalem, it is Israel's hogging of the water at the expense of the Palestinians or some other indiscretion.

It is a constant source of fascination for me that out of all the world's countries and regions, that this strip of land is the one ALL the nations are pounding their chests about. One of the most prominent and vocal critics of the latest misdemeanour by Israel was Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In the past, and in contrast to its less friendly surrounding neighbors, Israel enjoyed a relatively good relationship with Turkey, despite some roller coaster moments. In fact they were considered regional allies, even signing a military cooperation in 1998 when both countries saw Syria as a threat.

The relationship extended back to the Ottoman Empire where Turkey was a safe haven for Jews after being evicted from Spain. In the past, Turkey has had a notable record of protecting its Jewish minority people.

Abraham Foxman notes that:

In March 1949, Turkey became the first Muslim state to recognize Israel, and in 1958, Turkish Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion met in secret to sign a military and intelligence cooperation agreement. Turkish-Israeli relations have always had ups and downs. Yet, until recently, the unmistakable trend for the prior two decades was growing trade and investment, more cultural exchanges, increased tourism, ever greater military and intelligence cooperation and more frequent political meetings.

Among examples of that greater military and intelligence cooperation between the two nations are that Israel recently agreed to supply Turkey with 10 Heron drones estimated to be worth $180 million, and joint military exercises. Over half the trade between Turkey and Israel involved armament sales of some kind and upgrading of military equipment.

After the flotilla incident, Turkey's Foreign Minister Davutoglu drew comparisons with the 9/11 attacks and the Turkish ambassador to Israel was recalled - with threats to permanently break off relations - and the drills called off. Erdogan has also allegedly likened the Star of David with the Nazi Swastika. But Erdogan is also verbally attacking the US because those who lend support to Israel are also responsible for its crimes.

In a closed session of The Turkish Arab Bussiness Forum, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was reported to have announced that "Jerusalem is going to be the capital (of Palestine) very soon. And we are going to pray there together."

That was some turnaround!

Was it just this one episode over Israel's handling of the Turkish-led flotilla that influenced Erdogan's and Turkey's attitude or is there a deeper reason for the change in attitudes?

Sami Moubayed has written a brief commentary on Erdogan in his article Turkey's Erdogan: Never a "yes" man.

But for Turkey perhaps the writing was on the wall a long time ago. Perhaps one contributing cause to Turkey's about-face has been what its leadership perceives as a rejection by the European Union by restricting its status as that of an associate member. A factor contributing to this has been the Greece, Cypress, Turkey conflict.

If you can't join one team go find another one or make up your own. You might even become a major player in your own neighborhood.

But there's another reason.

In 2007, the moderate Turkish military warned Erdogan against straying from secularism. Yet since the rise of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) Turkey has steadily changed its diplomatic strategy. The AKP was so manipulative and contrary to the secular military in 2007 that the courts nearly banned it that year. However, since then it has dominated the parliament and shaped the leadership. This AKP influence has seen Turkey progressively moving towards Islamic extremism - not just a move away from Israel and its NATO allies but by also playing a more prominent role in the affairs of the Middle East.

Writer John Feffer notes:

Once rigidly secular, it has begun to fashion a moderate Islamic democracy. Once dominated by the military, it is in the process of containing the army within the rule of law. Once intolerant of ethnic diversity, it has begun to re-examine what it means to be Turkish. Once a sleepy economy, it is becoming a nation of Islamic Calvinists.

While I think Feffer's use of the word Calvinists is provocative and unfortunate, I can understand the point he's trying to make.

This emerging Turkey is also courting Iran. On the 9th June this year a UN Security Council resolution for a fourth round of sanctions was passed calling for the inspection of all vessels suspected of carrying nuclear materials and that Iran suspend its enrichment activities. Brazil and Turkey voted against the sanctions and Lebanon abstained.

University lecturer Dr Ergin Yildizoglu observed that, Erdogan and Davutoglu may be realizing, with horror, that they are about to join a game of ''Chicken'' with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who appears forever ready to go one step further than Turkey in confronting Israel.

Turkey's new-found friendship with Iran does not only impact Israel. Apparently the Saudis are nervous as well. It has been periodically reported that they've been sharing intelligence with Israel about Iran and that they have secretly given Israel a green light to attack them. That might be a little more complicated with Turkey watching the procedures.

How far is Erdogan prepared to go in backing loose-cannon Iran? Only time will tell.

About Alf Cengia

Last week: Those Noble Humanitarians


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