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Turkey Says Goodbye to Israel and the West

June 4, 2010 – 2:08 pm8 Comments

Turkish and Israeli flag pinsBy Efraim Inbar

The “Gaza flotilla” incident provided viewers with TV broadcasts of mass street protests of incited Turks against the Jewish state, including the torching of Israeli flags. Prime Minister Erdoğan, who occasionally makes anti-semitic statements, seemed to be taking every opportunity to slam the State of Israel.

Turkey, an important strategic partner of Israel in the 1990’s, turned into a bitter adversary. Turkey, an important regional state, distanced itself for almost a century from the Arab world, which the Turks quite rightfully perceived as backward, fanatical, corrupt and undemocratic. Yet, in the last few years, Turkey has been in the throes of an identity crisis, in which Muslim tradition, which is still entrenched within Turkish society, aspires to greater expression than was hitherto permitted by the secular regime in Ankara.

The AKP, the ruling Islamist party since November 2002, become emboldened after its reelection in July 2007 to make significant changes to Turkish foreign policy. Ankara’s relations towards Israel cooled, especially in the wake of the Gaza war in the winter of 2008. Scathing criticism, cancellation of joint military maneuvers and warming toward Hamas have characterized Turkish policy.

Noteworthy, the deterioration of relations between Ankara and Jerusalem is of Turkish initiative, over which Israel has no influence. The extreme stance taken by Turkey towards Israel is part of the major transformation of Turkey’s foreign policy. In fact, Turkey is turning away from the West. Its position diverges from that of the West on Hamas, but also on other important issues. Ankara hosted Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, accused of war crimes, despite the protest of the European states. Turkey is the only member of NATO to have hosted Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Turkey has even announced that it will not join sanctions against Iran and in the past month has strived, together with Brazil, to extricate Iran from its uncomfortable diplomatic position due to its ongoing nuclear program. Turkey is also growing closer to Syria, in the Iranian camp. Moreover, Turkey has stepped up its activity in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Turkey has also tightened its relations with Russia, which aims to curb US role in international affairs.

Yet, it is not a foregone conclusion that Turkey will persist in this direction. The army, which constitutionally enforced the secular-democratic nature of the regime, has become weaker in its position in the past few years, and cannot be expected to intervene as in the past. One should hope for change through democratic channels. Among Turkish society many still support the secular parties, which are far from pleased with the rush towards the Muslim world. Even among moderate Muslim quarters there is a sense of unease regarding Turkey siding with radical Islamic elements such as Hamas and Iran. One should also recall that Shiite Iran was an historic rival of the Sunni Turks.

Indeed, support in public opinion for the ruling Islamic party is in decline. This is mostly due to corruption and abuse of civil rights. Were elections held today, the Islamist party would lose many seats, and two secular parties would possibly have made up the government coalition. If current trends in public opinion hold till the next elections, scheduled for July 2011, it is likely that Turkey will emerge with a new prime minister. It is possible that precisely due to his situation in the polls, Erdogan has decided to exacerbate his relations with Israel in order to gain public support.

Israel should refrain from escalating tensions with Turkey, but should not tolerate insults. This will only be perceived as a weakness. Firm responses to the Turkish prime minister are in order. Firm, level-headed responses will be of some assistance to pro-Western Turks.

A major political drama is unfolding before our eyes in this important country. We are only spectators. Only the Turks can determine their future. For the sake of the free world, but primarily for their own sake, let us hope that they choose democracy and progress.

The author is professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies. He will deliver four lectures on Middle East subjects at the Limmud Oz Conference at Monash University.

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8 Comments »

  • Jack says:

    First, Israel killed innocent civilians, and any country whose citizens were killed by another country would react to such a violence, and that does not mean that country is turning its back to the West. if, of course, your definition of West is not “state terrorism.”
    Second, Israel is not West anyway; Israel is in the middle of the Middle East, unlike Turkey, which has lands both in Europe, and Asia Minor, Caucaus, as well as the Middle East.

  • frosh says:

    Jack,

    The dead were arguably not civilians, and they were far from innocent.

    The Turkish ship where the violence occurred was packed with trained militants.

    One only has to look at the video.

    On the contrary, on the other 5 ships there was no violence as the Israeli seaman were not set upon.

    You need to be honest with yourself, before others on here will take you seriously.

  • Sol Salbe says:

    My understanding is that it is Galus Australis policy not to publish opinion on Middle East issues unless it has an Australian/Diaspora. Sorry, I can’t see any above. Is they arrival of an Israeli in Melbourne sufficient to provide an Australian Angle? It is not as if his opinion  seem to carry a lot of weight in Israel with less than 100 references in the three main Hebrew dailies  combined.

    [Eds: Hi Sol, You are quite right about our unofficial policy. However, we have made a special offer to Limmud Oz presenters to write an article related to their session(s), as Limmud Oz is next weekend. Prof. Inbar is also a keynote speaker at Limmud Oz, so it may be of particular interest to our readers to be appraised of the topics that he will be speaking on].

  • ariel says:

    Sol,
    I wasn’t aware that credibility in a particular area was measured by the number of newspaper articles one has had published.
    It must mean that Frank Lowy knows nothing about business or football since I have never seen an article of his in any newspaper…

  • Sol Salbe says:

    Thanks Ariel for helping me prove the point. Comparing apples with apples: With 12,500 references to him  on the Sydney Morning Herald and 11,500 in the Age, Frank Lowy is a person of note and substance.
    I accept the editors note about LimmudOz which I am attending despite the skewed distribution of the overseas speakers [there are some great local sessions!].  Given the editors’ totally reasonable explanation the beef is obviously with obviously with the LimmudOz selection process and not that of Galus Australis.
     

  • Rachsd says:

    Hi Sol (and any other interested readers),
    Would you be interested in writing a review of LimmudOz?
    Let us know by email: editorial AT galusaustralis.com

  • ariel says:

    Sol,
    You’ve not proved the point at all.
    How many articles has Frank Lowy written on business or football?

  • frosh says:

    A major Turkish Islamic figure has now criticised Ergogan and the flotilla. 
    See this link:

    http://english.sol.org.tr/news/turkey/gulen-criticized-erdogan-and-flotilla-initiative-1180

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