Israel confident Erdogan's new term to be as warm

Israel has nothing to fear from the resounding victory of the Turkish AKP party.

Israel has nothing to fear from the resounding victory in Turkey Sunday of the Islamic-rooted AKP party, and would have been more concerned had the two large secular parties mustered enough seats in parliament to put together a government, according to government assessments in Jerusalem this week. According to these assessments, Israel would have had more reason to worry about a shift in its close relationship with Ankara had the secular opposition Republican People's Party and the far-right Nationalist Action Party done better at the polls and been able to put together a coalition. The prevalent sense in Jerusalem following the re-election of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and what has been widely interpreted as a vote in Turkey for Islam over secularism, was that the Islamic Justice and Development (AKP) party is a known quantity with a good track record on Israel based on a mutuality of interests, and that there is no reason to believe that this will suddenly change. Indeed, according to these assessments, Turkey - which is reportedly playing a middleman role between Syria and Israel - will now be able to assume that role with more confidence since Erdogan's resounding victory has proved the stability of his regime to the region. Government officals said that continuity of the government in Ankara was important in this regard, with both Israel and Syria apparently trusting Erdogan's envoys, something that would not have been guaranteed if there been a government change in Turkey. According to these assessments, while the AKP victory may lead to "small, measured" steps towards increased Islamization in Turkey, it will not likely impact on the country's foreign policy, which is still tilted heavily toward the US and the EU. Sources in Jerusalem were quick to point out that Israel's economic ties with Turkey have more than doubled since AKP took power in 2002, and today stand at some $2.5 billion in trade, with billions of dollars more in military sales, tourism and joint ventures. Since Erdogan came to power, all of the country's ministers have visited Israel, and numerous Israeli ministers have gone to Ankara. The feeling in Jerusalem is that these flourishing ties are not necessarily the result of any love in Ankara for Israel, but due to common interests. According to this way of thinking, Erdogan and the AKP are "very pragmatic" and realize that Israel has helped Ankara both in European capitals, where Turkey is struggling for admission to the EU, and on Capitol Hill in Washington. The AKP also realizes that if Turkey wants to be a player in the Middle East, which it does, it is necessary to have good ties with Israel. While relations at the governmental level are going in the right direction, there is concern in Jerusalem that there is little support for Israel among the wider Turkish public. One statistic quoted frequently to back this up is that only 5 percent of the country's nearly 74 million people read the newspapers, and the rest have their world view shaped by mosques and local radio stations, which are not pockets of support for Israel. "To say all the country likes us would not be true," one official said recently. "But Turkey is not a country where the people influence the government, but rather the other way around."