Turkey took another step closer to becoming an extremist Islamist state and patron of terrorists Sunday when Recep Tayyip Erdogan became the country’s first elected president.
That should worry Washington. It already has the country’s 17,000 Jews very nervous.
The increasingly autocratic Erdogan has carved out a reputation as one of the most virulently anti-Israel and anti-Semitic world leaders today.
Turkey is a long-time NATO ally, but under Erdogan it has moved closer to Iran and radical Islamists, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and, possibly, ISIS. ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has been actively recruiting in Turkey, Erdogan’s government admitted, and Turkish and other media reports that Turkey has provided funds and medical assistance for the notorious terror group.
The Jerusalem Post quotes an unnamed ISIS source saying, “Turkey paved the way for us. Had Turkey not shown such understanding for us, the Islamic State would not be in its current place. It showed us affection.”
Erdogan’s visceral hatred of Israel – which predates the 2010 flotilla incident – led him to burn 10 Israeli intelligence assets in Iran, according to The Washington Post, which also reported his intelligence chief has close links to Teheran.
His vitriol reached new heights during the recent Gaza war when he repeatedly likened Israel and its leaders to Hitler and the Nazis, accused Israel of “barbarism surpassing Hitler” and of deliberately killing Palestinian mothers.
He accused Israel of genocide in Gaza and his foreign minister called Israel’s actions “ethnic cleansing and a crime against humanity.”
The Turks, of all people, should know that’s a false charge. The term “genocide” was actually created with the systematic Turkish slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians during and right after World War I. That was part of its ethnic cleansing and mass murder of Greeks and Assyrians who Turkey drove out of their homelands.
When resolutions are introduced in Congress to commemorate the Armenian genocide, the Turkish government goes berserk and blames the Jews. Its officials call the Israeli government in Jerusalem and their highly paid Jewish lawyers in Washington demanding the legislation be stopped and Jewish sponsors remove their names.
When I was legislative director at AIPAC those who heard from the Turks would call me to help prevent passage. We ignored them.
In the 100 years since the Armenian genocide, Turkey has gone from the Ottoman Empire to a secular republic and now Erdogan wants to turn it into an Islamic state.
He has been moving in that direction during his three terms as prime minister and as the first elected president he is intent on transforming that office from a figurehead to a strong American-style executive minus the checks and balances, leading him to be called the Turkish Putin. He is expected to name as prime minister his protégé, the foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, who shares his virulent strain of anti-Semitism.
Erdogan has accused Jews of being behind many of the country’s problems and has failed to criticize threats against Jews by his supporters. He pressured Turkish Jews to publicly denounce Israel’s actions in Gaza while saying he disapproves of a negative “attitude toward our Jewish citizens in Turkey.” He can’t be the inciter-in-chief and then say he will protect Turkish Jews.
Some had hoped he would dial down his anti-Semitism, popular among more conservative Muslims, but it only seems to be growing.
Turkey and Qatar, by providing diplomatic, financial and weapons support to Hamas, which is on the State Department terrorist list, are state sponsors of terrorism.
Both countries also host major American military facilities, including air bases, and give sanctuary to terrorist leadership.
The US administration has denounced Erdogan’s “inflammatory” and “offensive” attacks on Israel, saying they “only damage Turkey’s international standing.” He responded by telling Washington to mind its own business.
Erdogan has long sought to replace Egypt as Washington’s go-to guy in the Middle East and chief broker between Israel and the Palestinians. But his close relationship with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood plus his rabid anti-Semitism have disqualified him in the eyes of the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
One result of the Islamization of Turkey under Erdogan has been the dramatic improvement in Israeli ties with Greece and Cyprus.
Turkish ties to Israel began to unravel early on as Erdogan pivoted from Europe to warm up relations with Syria and Iran. He purged military and intelligence officials from the previous government who had good relations with their Israeli counterparts.
But the worst blow came when Israeli stopped a Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, attempting to break the Gaza blockade in 2010. Nine Turks who attacked the Israeli boarding party were killed.
On his trip to Israel last year, President Barack Obama persuaded Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to phone Erdogan to apologize and agree to pay reparations. Erdogan trumpeted his humiliation of the Israelis but broke his promise to Obama and has consistently found excuses not to normalize relations. His latest is a demand that Israel lift the Gaza blockade. He also has said there will be no normalization as long as he is in office, and that will be at least another five years.
Another flotilla is planning to challenge the Israeli blockade, according to the group that sent the Mavi Marmara, Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH). No date was given for the trip, but look for Erdogan to cloak it in threats against Israel if it dares to interfere.
The bipartisan Congressional Turkish Caucus sent a sharply worded letter to Erdogan warning that his inflammatory anti-Semitic rhetoric is damaging bilateral relations.
He contemptuously replied that they should instead be criticizing Israel’s “state terrorism” in Gaza.
Congress needs to hold serious hearings on the US-Turkish relationship. Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic power grab, his support for terrorists, his reliability as a NATO ally and his trustworthiness for sharing US intelligence, security and technology should be carefully examined.
If Erdogan has turned over the names of Israeli intelligence agents to Iran why wouldn’t he also share Israeli and American secrets and technology like drones with Teheran, as well as with Hamas or even ISIS? “By any objective measure, the United States should consider Turkey a state-sponsor of terror and an intelligence vulnerability,” said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser now with the American Enterprise Institute.