Confronting Turkey

The West must stop deluding itself with regard to the political leadership of Turkey. The time has come to recognize that Turkey has changed radically – and for the worse.

Turkish flag 311 (R) (photo credit: Osman Orsal / Reuters)
Turkish flag 311 (R)
(photo credit: Osman Orsal / Reuters)
How can one explain the reticence of the US and other Western powers in the face of Turkey’s aggressive declarations? On Saturday night, Ahmet Davutoglu, foreign minister of Turkey, a country that is a member of NATO and a candidate to join the EU, threatened to launch a military offensive against Israel, an important US ally.
Turkey would not “stay unresponsive” to an Israeli aggression against any Muslim country, Davutoglu said, according to the Istanbul-based daily Hurriyet, in response to Israel’s reported air strike on an arms convoy inside Syria. If those are not fighting words, what are? On Sunday, meanwhile, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan kept up the heat claiming Israel has “a mentality of waging state terrorism.”
Israeli officials, speaking off record to The Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon, rightly noted Ankara’s “brazen hypocrisy.”
Erdogan and Davutoglu have no qualms taking Israel to task for a “crime” that Turkey itself is guilty of perpetrating.
Have the two men forgotten that just last October, after Syrian shelling killed five Turkish civilians, Turkish military forces fired salvos at Syria? Or that Ankara actively supports Syrian opposition forces? Southern Turkey has in recent months become a launch pad for the smuggling of crucial supplies across the border into Syria, including weapons, communications gear, field hospitals and even salaries for soldiers who defect.
But what for Ankara is taken as an inalienable right to self-defense becomes “state terrorism” when applied to Israel. Indeed, anytime the Jewish state resorts to force to protect itself, Erdogan is quick to issue denunciations, whether those on the receiving end are Turkey’s close allies, such as Hamas terrorists in Gaza, or foes, such as Syria’s repressive military forces.
According to nearly all media reports, last Wednesday’s purported Israeli air strike targeted a Syrian convoy that was trying to smuggle into Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon Russian-made SA-17 surface-to-air missiles that are designed to attack anything from cruise missiles and smart bombs to fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, to unmanned aerial vehicles. Introducing these SA-17 missiles to Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon would compromise Israel’s air superiority, which has so far provided important deterrence against Hezbollah attacks on Israel.
Turkey’s hypocrisy is so blatant and absurd that we wonder if the flurry of accusations and threats is nothing more than a diplomatic ploy designed to distance Ankara from Jerusalem so that the impression of an Israeli-Turkish entente against Syrian President Basher Assad’s regime is summarily dismissed.
Perhaps Turkey is simply jumping at an opportunity to galvanize support across the Middle East, from Cairo to Tehran, by using the standard method known to all Middle East rulers for the last 80 or so years – bash the Zionists.
Whatever the motivation, the unfortunate fact remains that a NATO member state threatened to attack one of America’s major non-NATO allies – and nobody in Washington, or for that matter, London, Paris or Berlin, bothered to issue even the feeblest denunciation of Turkey or defense of the legitimacy of the purported Israeli air strike.
The West had high hopes for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, better known by its Turkish acronym, the AKP. The Bush administration saw an AKP-governed Turkey as a model Islamist state – moderate, democratic and with a booming economy – for other Islamist parties in the region to follow. The Obama administration seems to have adopted that optimistic approach. In a January 2012 interview with Time’s Fareed Zakaria, US President Barack Obama named Erdogan as one of his top five international “best friends” together with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
The West must stop deluding itself with regard to the political leadership of Turkey. This is the same leadership that, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, has broken the world record for jailing the most journalists (more than 70); that threatened in 2011 to attack Cyprus over gas drilling off its shores; that made the ridiculous claim The Economist was a part of an “Israeli conspiracy” because its editorial board recommended ahead of the 2011 elections in Turkey not to vote for the AKP; and that in 2009 denied the genocide in Darfur and defended Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the man responsible for this genocide.
The time has come to recognize that Turkey has changed radically – and for the worse.