Talking Turkey

Once again this week the world had a chance to see who Recep Tayyip Erdogan really is and what kind of person the United States is making deals with.

December 25, 2018 01:13
3 minute read.
Tayyip Erdogan delivers speech during protest against 2018 killings of Palestinian protesters

TURKISH PRESIDENT Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during a protest against the recent killings of Palestinian protesters on the Gaza-Israel border and the US embassy move to Jerusalem, in Istanbul, Turkey on May 18.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Once again this week the world had a chance to see who Recep Tayyip Erdogan really is and what kind of person the United States is making deals with.

US President Donald Trump had a phone call with the Turkish president about 10 days ago during which he decided to withdraw the remaining 2,000 American soldiers from Syria. In exchange, Erdogan promised to complete the mission of destroying the remnants of ISIS, the reason the US had sent the forces to Syria in the first place.

It didn’t take long, but on Saturday, Erdogan decided to lash out at Israel. “The Jews in Israel kick people laying on the ground. In fact, Jews don’t kick men but also women and children when they fall on the ground,” he told young Turks at an Istanbul meeting of the Turkey Youth Foundation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded on Twitter: “Erdogan – the occupier of northern Cyprus, whose army massacres women and children in Kurdish villages, inside and outside Turkey – should not preach to Israel.”

In response, the Turkish foreign minister called Netanyahu “a cold-blooded killer” and that Netanyahu was “responsible for massacres of thousands of innocent Palestinians”.

Netanyahu fired back again: “I was just exposed to the daily trolling of the antisemitic dictator Erdogan,” he wrote on Twitter. “He [Erdogan] knows what a moral army is… as opposed to an army that massacres women and children in Kurdish villages and a state which, to my regret, is becoming more dictatorial day by day.”

It is a sad reality. Israel and Turkey used to be the closest of friends. The IAF, for example, used to train freely over Turkish airspace, and the chiefs of staff of both countries used to frequently meet to share intelligence.

About a decade ago though, Erdogan decided to turn Turkey from Israel’s best friend to one of its greatest adversaries. The countries no longer have an ambassador posted in each other’s country.

In May, Israel’s ambassador to Turkey Eitan Naeh was forced to undergo a humiliating security check at Istanbul Airport with media cameras watching. The incident was carefully orchestrated by Erdogan’s government.

While Erdogan claims to be motivated by a desire to protect the Palestinian people, it is difficult to ignore the blatant antisemitism in his endless attacks against Israel. The question is what should Israel do.

Some Israelis argue that the government should salvage what it can in the relationship with Turkey, with an emphasis on economic, business and cultural ties. Others claim that it is time to simply write Turkey off, at least for as long as Erdogan remains in charge.

We tend to agree. Turkey is no longer an ally of Israel, and the United States and Europe would do well to consider if the country is still an ally of theirs. It might be a member of NATO, but it definitely doesn’t act like one.

Israel has tried to appease Erdogan in the past and failed. In 2016, Netanyahu apologized to Erdogan for the deadly IDF raid on a Turkish flotilla to Gaza in 2010 and agreed to pay the country $20 million in compensation. For a brief period, it seemed that the two countries were on their way to reconcile but that didn’t last. Erdogan simply could not hold himself and his antisemitism back.

While the 2016 deal was a mistake, Netanyahu has done well to build alliances in the eastern Mediterranean in place of Turkey. An example of this was last week when Netanyahu hosted his Cypriot and Greek counterparts for their fifth trilateral meeting in just under three years. This alliance is a counterweight to Turkey and its aggressive president.

As long as Erdogan remains leader of Turkey, ties between Jerusalem and Ankara will continue to deteriorate and relations between the two peoples will continue to be poisoned. We do not know what will happen when he leaves office, but Israel should begin focusing its attention and resources on fostering better people-to-people relations in absence of a government it can work with.

It is time now to work on ensuring that the Turkey Erdogan leaves behind is not poisoned like he is.

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