Prior to Monday morning’s incident off the coast of Gaza, the Israeli military had had a good working relationship with its Turkish counterpart. The two countries were able to co-ordinate military affairs effectively, thanks to the status of the Turkish army as a bastion of secularism. Every decade or so the army would stage another coup to make sure that the government remained stable and secular, so that business could continue as usual.
All that has changed over the last six months or so as the ruling party, the Islamist AKP, skillfully purged the army of potential threats by charging various high-ranking officers with an attempted coup. With a judiciary already compromised by the Islamic revival, and the government in the hands of the AKP, neutering the military gave the radicals a free hand to engage in various forms of adventurism, including this latest attempt to land a “humanitarian” flotilla in Gaza.
The Israeli reaction to the latest escapade seems to have dealt a death blow to any further Israeli-Turkish military co-operation. According to Hürriyet:
Israel Military Ties Threaten AKP Support as Islamists Call for Stronger Reaction
Turkey’s continued military ties with Israel have become the target of criticism by the country’s Islamists, who say the prime minister was not strong enough in his remarks condemning Israel’s attack on a Gaza aid flotilla.
“If the military relations between Turkey and Israel continue, the [ruling Justice and Development Party, or] AKP will lose support by creating more disappointment among its base,” said Mehmet Sever, the head of the Istanbul International Brotherhood and Solidarity Association, or IBS, an Islamist Turkish charity.
So Erdogan and the AKP are not radical enough for at least one faction. Now the government has to keep an eye on the threat from its right. Or is it the left? The old left-right distinction isn’t particularly useful when describing radical Islamic politics.
Erdogan, perhaps feeling the pressure from the zealots, is ramping up the anti-Zionist rhetoric:
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s speech to his party’s group meeting Tuesday, in which he blamed Israel for the deadly assault, was seen as “not strong enough” by the AKP’s Islamist base, according to Sever. Party supporters expect more action, he added.
“There is disappointment among the AKP grassroots as they were expecting more from the government,” Sever said. “But this incident is very recent and we must see what the government does next.”
Diplomatically speaking, he added, Erdogan’s speech was severe and on the mark, and has already had the effect of making Israel start to release those in custody.
“We are expecting the government to take more deterrent actions,” Necdet Kutsal, the editor in chief of Milli Gazete, which has close ties to the Islamist Saadet Party, told the Daily News. “We have learned that three military exercises with Israel were canceled. This is a good development.”
The government should cancel its military ties with Israel and deport the Israeli ambassador immediately, Numan Kurtulmus, the head of Saadet Party, said at a press conference Wednesday.
Turkey’s military relationship with Israel is not the only casualty of the raid on the Mavi Marmara. According to Presseurop, Turkey is ready to turn its back on Europe as well as the United States:
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Though the Turkish nation was technically Europeanised and secularised by Kemal Atatürk after World War I, its gradual metamorphosis and return to Islam began in 1989 with the collapse of Communism and the end of the Cold War. The dissolution of the rival blocs reopened the prospects, at once unexpected and ancestral, of Ankara’s hegemonic penetration into the Caucasus, Azerbaijan, and the Islamic republics of the ex-USSR. Its rapprochement with Syria and its initially cautious and later overt overtures to Iran subsequently completed this psychological, political and religious evolution from an unfinished Europeanisation process to a reforging of atavistic ties to Asia. The government, while retaining a prudent and secretive approach, began playing a tighter game in 2002 when the moderate Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power, led by the skilful and arrogant Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his team-mate Abdullah Gül, now prime minister and president respectively.
Erdogan immediately embarked on long and difficult negotiations for Turkish accession to the European Union, which the Americans — unlike many Europeans — endorsed as a way to keep the country within the NATO fold. But that was also the beginning of some extremely ambiguous wheeler-dealing. It wasn’t quite clear where Erdogan and his party aimed to steer post-modern Turkey. While the often fanaticised Anatolian populations were succumbing to the Sirens of Islamic fundamentalism, Machiavellian Erdogan made some commitments to Brussels and a number of pledges on civil rights issues that went against the grain of the national and nationalist tradition: viz. abolition of capital punishment, suspension of efforts to make adultery a criminal offence, kid-glove treatment of the Kurds, and reaching out to Armenian Christians struggling for acknowledgment of the genocide.
Erdogan and Gül, who would appear in public accompanied by their scrupulously veiled wives, gave the impression not so much of desiring a rapprochement with Europe as of using Europe to divest themselves — by invoking European stipulations and demands — of the historical and parallel power of the Kemalists, who have been present in Turkish institutions and society since the 1920s. The commissioners and MEPs in Brussels deliberately and short-sightedly exported an excessive brand of democratic moralism: they had a tendency to look down on the generals and magistrates as a single caste that carried out coups, regardless of the fact that such coups during the 1980s put an end to confused and faltering parliaments and this for short transitional periods.
For Erdogan, it was indispensable to strike a hard enough blow to reduce their importance as the guarantors and guardians of Mustafa Kemal’s secular legacy, in order to turn back and, to a certain extent, re-Asianise Turkey, which would then become the leader of the Muslim countries in the region. He has made clever use of European rules to chip away at the Europeanism of the secular junta. It is not by chance that on 22 February he ordered the arrest of over 40 army dignitaries, 14 of whom were top brass. So it comes as no surprise that Erdogan should rally to the cause of the activists aboard the pacifistic flotilla’s flagship, condemning the Israeli raid as an “act of piracy” and “state terrorism”.
The rise of the emerging countries — China, India, Brazil, Russia — is revolutionising the global geopolitical landscape. And in this new landscape, observes the Turkish paper Hürriyet, “Turkey, which is also growing fast, is showing increasing tendencies of going with ‘The Rest’, and less with ‘The West’.” “This is interpreted as ‘Islamicization of Turkish foreign policy’ by some in Europe and the United States,” adds Hürriyet, “but developments point to something much broader: anti-Americanism in particular, and anti-Westernism in general among Turks is increasingly palpable. Remaining committed to Turkey’s Western orientation in this climate is becoming a challenge for an elite minority. But Turkey’s drifting away from the U.S. and Europe is not something that worries mainstream Turks.” This trend goes hand in hand with an upsurge of self-assurance in the emerging countries, including Turkey, which has now “ found the confidence to talk down a Europe whose global influence is no longer seen as secure”.
Given that it now has a nascent nuclear power on its eastern flank, Turkey’s “overtures to Iran” are prudent and necessary. But make no mistake about it: Turkey and Iran will never form a stable alliance or partnership. They are traditional rivals and ancient enemies, and each has aspirations to lead the global Ummah when the collapse of the West is complete.
Turkey is Sunni, and was the seat of the Caliphate for centuries. Iran, however, is preparing for the Shi’ite apocalypse: the arrival of the Twelfth Imam. The two countries are on a collision course, and what we are witnessing now is a jockeying for position in anticipation of that inevitable conflict.
As an afterthought, what about Turkish Jews? They are a small but significant presence, especially in Istanbul. For the time being they enjoy official protection, but their safety depends on the whim of a fundamentalist Islamic government.
Hürriyet has the story:
Turkey Boosts Security for Jewish Residents Amid Protests
Turkey has beefed up security to protect its Jewish minority and Israel’s diplomatic missions in response to increased tensions over Israel’s deadly raid on an aid ship dispatched by a Turkish NGO, Interior Minister Besir Atalay said Wednesday.
Security has been stepped up at 20 points in Istanbul alone, where there are several synagogues and centers serving 23,000 Jewish residents. Measures have been taken at residences, consulates and places of worship in the city, according to Atalay.
The move came as hundreds of Turks protested against Israel for the third day Wednesday. The interior minister said no harm had been done, or would be allowed to come, to any Jewish person during demonstrations staged in Turkey.
Turkish resentment of Israel has risen dramatically since Monday’s killing of nine people, including as many as seven Turks, on the aid ship. Following the deadly incident, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel and scrapped planned war games with Israel.
Despite Atalay’s reassurances, the Jewish community in Turkey is definitely worried, according to Ivo Molinas, the editor in chief of the Istanbul-based weekly publication Shalom, who said the anger in the country could turn very easily to anti-Semitism. “The rhetoric used by the prime minister has been very radical,” Molinas said.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched a series of harsh verbal attacks on Israel since Monday’s raid. More than 20,000 people demonstrated in Turkey after the attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla, many of them burning Israeli flags.
“But the prime minister also said Tuesday that he was against anti-Semitism. He says it during each crisis but he repeated it yesterday,” added Molinas, whose newspaper has a circulation of around 5,000. “Both him and the leaders of the opposition have said that all of this will have no effect on the Jews of Turkey.”
The Jewish community in Istanbul is an obvious pawn in the high-stakes chess game being played by Netanyahu and Erdogan. If Turkey suddenly finds itself “unable to control” the anti-Israel demonstrators, the imminent risk to the Jews of Istanbul could put enormous public pressure on the Israeli government to cut a deal and give in to at least some of the Turkish demands.
This is a complex and fast-moving game. It’s hard to keep an eye on all the pieces, much less predict what the next move will be.
Hat tip: C. Cantoni.