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
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.
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
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.”
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.
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
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
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
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.