RUTHIE BLUM Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be having domestic troubles these days, but two places where he remains popular are Iran and Gaza.
Indeed, at the end of January, Erdogan went to the Islamic Republic to meet with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani. The purpose of his visit was twofold: to bolster trade and energy cooperation between the two countries and to discuss differences over Syria.
By his own account, Erdogan has been hoping “for the removal of all sanctions on Iran. Turkey has so far done its best in that regard and will continue to do so.”
No surprise, then, that a few bilateral business deals were sealed between Ankara and Tehran during Erdogan’s short stay.
That was two weeks ago.
This week, Erdogan was hailed by Hamas for his “noble position” on making a diplomatic reconciliation with Israel conditional on a complete lift of its naval blockade of Gaza. The Turkish prime minister also said that relations with Israel could not be normalized until a final agreement on compensation to the families of the Mavi Marmara “victims” was signed.
From the time of the 2010 incident – that led to Turkey’s severing of ties with Israel – Erdogan has been calling the shots and getting away with it. The first of these was the “Free Gaza Flotilla” itself.
Six ships transporting arms and activists set out to defy Israel’s blockade of the terrorist-run enclave. When Israeli soldiers tried to prevent the Mavi Marmara from going any further, they were pummeled with sticks, stabbed with knives, shot at and thrown overboard.
Because the soldiers had been equipped with paint-ball guns, it took them a while to begin shooting their attackers with live ammunition.
When they did, however, they managed to kill nine of the perpetrators. It was an act of self-defense, pure and simple.
Turkey took the opportunity of the violent incident to go after Israel with a vengeance in the international arena. Lying about the purpose of the flotilla – claiming it was a peaceful mission aimed at bringing humanitarian goods into Gaza – the Turkish Islamist began a blatant anti-Israel campaign that allowed his true colors to show through any membrane of remaining doubt.
He even called Zionism a “crime against humanity” at a UN forum last February. Oh, and his courts filed lawsuits against Israel Defense Forces soldiers and officers who intercepted the flotilla.
Neither that nor Erdogan’s stance on Iran, support of Hamas and Hezbollah (both designated by the US as terrorist organizations) and statements hostile to Jews, women and blacks caused US President Barack Obama to stop referring to him as a “close personal friend.”
On the contrary, when Obama was on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport last March, about to return home after his first official trip to Israel as president, he phoned Erdogan and made Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issue an apology for the events of the Mavi Marmara.
It was this appalling piece of appeasement – forced on Netanyahu by Obama – that set the stage for what has happened since then: 11 months of “talks” with Turkey.
What this means in Middle Eastern- ese is nearly a year of continued attempts on Israel’s part, including the offer of $20 million in compensation for the flotilla deaths, to persuade Turkey to resume relations.
As soon as word got out on Tuesday of an imminent agreement, however, Erdogan did what all Islamist “negotiators” do under such circumstances: upped the ante.
“I am in favor of an agreement with Turkey,” Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel Radio on Thursday. “But [the current impasse] is Erdogan’s fault... I don’t understand [his] behavior.”
Is Steinitz kidding? What is hard to understand about Erdogan’s behavior? It is Israel’s actions that are incomprehensible.
The only explanation that once made sense (to optimistic pragmatists) was that Netanyahu received assurances from Obama about US backing of a potential Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities in exchange for reconciliation with Turkey – whose airspace would be needed in such an event.
This is clearly nonsense. Obama will never approve an Israeli strike on Iran; he won’t even let Congress step up sanctions. And the likelihood of Erdogan’s allowing Israel airspace access for a military mission against the country with which he is now enhancing economic ties is nil.
It is high time for Israel to wake up and smell the Turkish coffee.
The writer is the author of To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’