Analysis: Ankara, Jerusalem ties unlikely to improve

Visiting American scholar on whether to believe recent threats from Turkish leadership: "Try not to test them."

erdogan 1710 521 (photo credit: Murad Seze/Reuters)
erdogan 1710 521
(photo credit: Murad Seze/Reuters)
Recent threatening statements by top-ranking Turkish government officials against Israel demonstrate that any rapprochement between Israel and Turkey is not likely in the near future, or as long as Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan remains in power.
All talk about a possible deal between the countries ignores the continuing rhetoric, actions and Islamist ideology of the Turkish regime, which seeks to lead the Arab world toward a new phase of uprisings and Islamist governments in the region.
The Turkish prime minister said on Sunday that Israel’s reported raid on Syria was another act of “state terror” and that the state had acted like a “spoiled child.”
While Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Friday that Turkey would have a response to any attack Israel made against any Muslim country. He also mocked Syria for not responding.
This is not the first time such harsh rhetoric has been aimed at Israel, but is part of a continuing pattern of vitriol coming from the regime.
There was the notable outburst by Erdogan at Davos, during an argument with President Shimon Peres, when he stormed off the stage. Then there was the accusation at the end of 2012 by Erdogan that Israel is a “terrorist state” that carries out “ethnic cleansing” in the Gaza Strip. And so on.
At an event discussing Turkey on Tuesday at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Ariel Cohen, a Senior Research Fellow at the US think tank The Heritage Foundation, said Turkey’s rhetoric against Israel should not merely be deemed noise. Even though Turkey’s recent rage was over the reported attack on Syria, which it dislikes because of its massacre of fellow Sunnis, Israel should “try not to test it.”
Cohen went on to predict that Israel will have to learn to deal with the government of the AKP (Justice and Development Party) for a long time, as Erdogan seeks to change the constitution to a presidential system that may see him remain in power for the foreseeable future. In addition, there are no strong voices against him in Turkey.
Erdogan established the party in 2001 and became prime minister in 2003.
Davutoglu, who has been Turkey’s foreign minister since 2009, is seen as the architect of Turkey’s neo-Ottoman foreign policy, which seeks to reposition the country as the leading power in the region. The country has developed a much more aggressive foreign policy with an Islamist flavor, rooted in Erdogan’s AKP party, which is working slowly to Islamize Turkey.
There are many reports of this in the press, from ending the head-scarf ban, to increasing Islamic education in the school system, as well as a project to build Turkey’s biggest mosque in Istanbul.
The ideological links between the Muslim Brotherhood and the AKP party are strong, as is evident by Erdogan’s bold defense of Hamas, his trip to Gaza, and the growing relations with post-revolution Islamist governments in the region in Egypt and Tunisia and perhaps in Syria if Assad falls.
Cohen notes, however, that Erdogan is more pragmatic and “is not a risktaker like Morsi.” Much can be learned of leaders by looking at the beginning of their careers, says Cohen, adding that Erdogan wrote anti-Semitic poetry and drama in his early years. He compares this to the recent exposure of the Morsi tapes from 2010, showing him call Jews apes and pigs. Cohen sees this as an intelligence failure by the US, that despite a multi-billion dollar budget, failed to pick up on these things earlier.
At the conference at the Begin-Sadat Center, an official from a Turkish-Israeli organization asked why the Obama administration is not playing more of an active role in healing the rift between Israel and Turkey.
Cohen responded that the US is not acting like a superpower and after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, its power is at a low ebb. He said that in discussions with the US State Department official responsible for Turkey policy he was told, “this issue is a low priority, way down on the list, especially because of the crisis in Syria.”
So with Obama embracing Erdogan as one of the leaders with whom he has a close and friendly relationship, it is not likely that the US administration will stand up to Turkey’s actions in any meaningful way. When Turkey canceled NATO air force drills that were to take place in the country in 2009 because of Israel’s planned participation, the US did not respond.
And in 2012 it kept Israel from participating in an international anti-terror conference in Turkey and the US Secretary of State at the time, Hillary Clinton, failed to take notice.
Could relations between the countries deteriorate into an armed conflict? Cohen thinks this would be a bad idea for Israel and a result of bad policy. He went on to add that the real test will come in the eastern Mediterranean gas fields where Israel and Cyprus have been cooperating to develop them.
On the other hand, Cohen notes that Turkey is in no position to go to war with anybody since it has “decapitated the leaders of its army.” But, he went on, “Turks are no dummies, they are very experienced diplomatically and will use political warfare such as it did by excluding Israel from NATO activities.”
Prof. Efraim Inbar, the director of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies, thinks that as long as Erdogan is there, “no improvement in relations will occur because for Erdogan one of the keys is to lead the Muslim world and Israel bashing is part of that.”
Relations between Turkey and the US will probably continue to be close as long as Obama is in the White House and any political warfare against Israel will be largely ignored. If some kind of armed conflict were to break out, the US will most likely try to put out the fire quickly as it did with the Marmara boat crisis.