Turkish President Abdullah Gul has been going out of his way to make it clear where his country’s loyalties lie.

In New York for the UN General Assembly, Gul, in a calculated push to reassert Turkish antagonism toward the Jewish state, invoked the name of the Mavi Marmara and noted that “in old times” Israel’s ill-fated raid would have been casus belli – a justification for war.

Gul hinted that Israel had to perform a public act of contrition. “It is up to Israel. They have to do what is necessary since they are the ones that created the incident,” he said.

Gul’s audacious comments followed a nasty diplomatic tussle between Gul and President Shimon Peres. The two had planned to meet on the sidelines of the General Assembly. But Peres was forced to cancel after he refused Gul’s precondition of offering an official Israeli apology for what happened on the Mavi Marmara on May 31.

Even in international forums, notoriously slanted against Israel, not everyone has concluded that Israel was to blame for the bloody confrontation, which ended with the deaths of nine Turks. Both the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, and a separate UN panel formed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, are looking into the incident in which dozens of “peace” activists violently attacked IDF commandos when they boarded the ship to enforce a naval blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza.

Gul, as has been his country’s consistent wont, ignored these inconvenient facts. Peres, in a remarkably conciliatory tone, explained to reporters at the UN, “I got some conditions which made this meeting in my judgment not a positive one. We do not intend to worsen the situation, but neither can we agree to preconditions that are totally unacceptable.”

In yet another jab to Israel, Gul declared his country’s support for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons – which was essentially a call, already made by several Arab nations, to force Israel, reportedly the only country in the region with nuclear capability, to disarm.

And parallel to his assault on Israel, Gul reached out to the Islamic Republic, publicly announcing he would be holding a special meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

TIES BETWEEN Ankara and Teheran seem to have grown closer in direct relation to Turkey’s deteriorating relations with Israel. In a recent visit to Istanbul, Iranian Vice President Moammad Reza Rahimi was moved to declare, “Turkey is the best friend of Iran in the world.”

There is good reason for Rahimi to be appreciative.

Turkey has become a veritable safe haven for Iranian banks, including those with suspected links to Teheran’s nuclear programs, as Ankara leads the way in undermining a UN-sponsored boycott campaign aimed at halting Iran’s nuclear enrichment project.

Turkish-Iranian trade has increased by 86 percent this year. In a bid to keep Gul’s ruling AKP party in power, Teheran has pledged $25 million to its campaign ahead of Turkey’s July 2011 elections.

Besides Israeli tourism, Turkey has little to lose from pursuing its present foreign policy. Only Turkish banks with business in the US that also deal directly with Iranian companies blacklisted by Washington risk facing US penalties. But Turkey has much to gain, such as exclusive Iranian business deals and the admiration of Muslim masses happy to see waning Western influence in the Middle East.

That imbalance needs to change. Since it came to power in 2002, Turkey’s AKP leadership has gradually shifted away from the West into the orbit of mullah- run Iran. It should be forced to pay the consequences.



The US, the EU, Israel and others should cut back military cooperation and consider economic sanctions.

Just as Iran has openly pledged support for the AKP, so too should the US and the EU actively back the secular opposition in Turkey ahead of the upcoming elections. Gul has made it abundantly clear where his country’s loyalties lie. It is now the turn of the US and the EU to do the same.

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