Tayyip Erdogan 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Murad Sezer)
The Turkish demand for an Israeli apology over last year’s flotilla incident is
Even a UN investigation (the Palmer Committee) dealing
with the issue has apparently concluded that Israel’s actions were perfectly
legal – much to Turkey’s chagrin. Moreover, the Turks on the ship were
provocateurs, members of a terrorist organization, and violently resisted a
legal attempt to take over the ship. As a matter of fact, Jerusalem deserves an
apology and compensation.
Yet justice is not always triumphant and/or
relevant in international relations. Indeed, Defense Minister Ehud Barak is
reportedly willing to bow to Turkish demands, not because justice is on the
Turkish side, but because he thinks that only an apology can repair
While good relations with Turkey are indeed
quite valuable, the deterioration in relations is not due to Israeli actions in
the Arab-Israeli arena or elsewhere, but to a major reorientation in Turkish
foreign policy under the ruling Islamist AKP party.
The recent electoral
victory of the AKP will only hasten the abandonment of the traditional Kemalist
foreign policy, with its pro-Western orientation and reluctance to be drawn into
Middle East politics. In contrast, AKP-led Turkey is purposefully distancing
itself from the West, wants to improve relations with its Muslim neighbors, and
entertains ambitions to lead the Muslim world.
Moreover, Ankara has
aligned itself with radical Islamist forces in the Middle East, siding with
Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Gaza, and Hezbollah in
Within this framework, good relations with Israel are a
Indeed, Israel-bashing has become a tool with which to overcome
the historic suspicions of Arabs and Shi’ites toward the Sunni Turks. So
Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, hardly lets a week pass without
disparaging Israel and/or the Jews, which undoubtedly suits the anti-Israeli and
anti- Semitic sentiments so prevalent in the Muslim world.
Israeli apology will not repair relations, as Turkey is no longer interested in
a strategic partnership.
Moreover, such an apology will only be used to
humiliate the Jewish state and strengthen the posturing of the Turkish premier
as a champion against Israel. Israel’s reluctance to enter a duel of words with
Erdogan is construed as weakness, and only invites additional
The new Turkish leadership is taking advantage of the weakness
displayed by the Obama administration through rejecting American regional
preferences, and in the attempt to weaken its ally Israel. Furthermore, tensions
between Jerusalem and Washington lead the Turks to believe they can get away
with a strong anti- Israeli posture.
Unfortunately, as long as the AKP
stays in power, Israel should shy away from security and intelligence
cooperation; the current Turkish government cannot be trusted with Israel’s
secrets. After all, they may be transferred to Tehran the next
Similarly, Israel should not be fooled by the emerging competition
between Iran and Turkey – two historic rivals – as the pro-Iranian Assad regime
in Syria is challenged from within by forces (partly Islamist) supported by
Turkey. Even if Syria remains a bone of contention between Iran and Turkey, the
two countries still have many areas of cooperation, such as opposing Kurdish
nationalism, dividing spheres of influence in Iraq, aiding Muslim Brotherhood
elements in the Arab world, weakening a regional rival such as Israel, and a
preference for an inactive US.
Israel should do more to present its case
to the Turkish public. Large swaths of Turkey dislike the Islamist tendencies of
its government. The reservoirs of sympathy for Israel among the educated, the
business elites and the military should not be underestimated even though they
are all without much political influence at the present. Crucially, while
infringements on freedom of the press have been spreading, anti-AKP voices are
still heard from outside.
Furthermore, Israel should stop trying to avoid
exacting a price from a hostile Turkey. Turkey should no longer enjoy the
“moderate Islam” label as its policies increasingly deviate from the West on an
increasing number of issues. Small Israel can contribute to the removal of the
“moderate Islam” mask Turkey is wearing and point out that it has become a
Trojan Horse in NATO.
Israel has often sided with Turkish interests in
Washington. This must stop.
TURKEY’S DEMOCRATIC credentials need to be
scrutinized The direction of Turkish politics is worrisome, as freedom of press
is curtailed, as the independence of the judiciary is threatened, and as Erdogan
attempts to build a centralized presidential system to suit his ambitions. As a
matter of fact, Turkey is moving into greater authoritarianism as it gets closer
to the Middle East.
Israel should not allow Erdogan to bully it. Our
leverage in Ankara is limited, but we can fight back – and have nothing to gain
from an increasingly authoritarian and Islamist Turkey.The writer is
Professor of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University and director of the
Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.