Cherchez the money

The flotilla events are an ideological dividend to the green money propping up Erdogan’s government since 2003.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Recep Tayyip Erdogan 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The political joint venture by Iran and Turkey has achieved its intended goal of painting Israel as the aggressor and the so-called humanitarian mission to Gaza as the innocent victim. In fact, the suspicion is that the two sponsoring countries and the NGOs expected a greater number of casualties to help rev up the propaganda machines and may not have had quite the outcome they expected.
In a world where Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is perceived as a humanitarian and Israelis are perceived as war-mongering infidels, one must take a moment to take stock of reality. What is driving the change in Turkey’s relationship with Israel? It isn’t as simple or transparent as it might look to those who are looking for black and white answers.
How the Turkish government is managing its relationship with Israel raises a number of questions, and there are an even greater number of questions about the future of this once great empire. Is Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s current posture towards Israel the natural evolution of the situation we have been witnessing since his rise to power in 2003? Erdogan has distinguished himself during the past several months as a defender of Palestinian human rights and all things just in the name of Islam. He worked his way from slamming Israel at Davos, during a conference with Shimon Peres and Ban Ki-moon, to actively supporting the use of an organization with questionable intentions and a checkered background, the IHH, to challenge Israel’s security and policy regarding Gaza.
Through strengthened bilateral relations with Iran, state visits and brokering the Iran-Brazil-Turkey uranium enrichment deal, Erdogan has recently become much closer to his eastern neighbor and particularly to the Iranian leadership. Silent on how Iran has addressed internal dissent on its streets, he appears to be at ease with hundreds killed and thousands in Iranian jails.
Equally significant was the Turkish cancellation of a joint NATO-Israeli military exercise in favor of holding military maneuvers with Syria.
Among other signs of Turkey’s change of direction is Erdogan’s defense of the Sudanese President Omar al- Bashir against charges brought by the International Criminal Court. This would be the very same court in which he wants Israel to be tried for the war in Gaza. When he said, “It’s not possible for a Muslim to commit genocide,” reading between the lines it simply means that the religion provides for such treatment of non-Muslims and mass conversion or pogrom.
So, why would Erdogan and his government risk the country’s status by getting into bed with Iran and a questionable NGO, especially one that is by some accounts funded by questionable practices and sources? Why risk membership in the EU and NATO? Why risk its friendship with Israel? Why would partnership with Ahmadinejad against Israel be more attractive to Erdogan than facing the Turkish nationalists accusing him of treason and sellout? Is this simply because he wants to be reelected? Or has Turkey been swayed by statistics that seem to say that this is simply how the Middle East and southern Asia are shaping up. Erdogan could simply be responding to the increasingly popular and populated Islamic movement? BUT IT is never that simple. There are two distinct factors that may be contributing to shift Turkey further into the Islamist camp.
First, to sustain the economy and keep the population happy, Erdogan needs more “green money” (Islamic green, not environmental green) from various Islamic markets, businesses and economies. It is thought that this money brought his party to power and is still critical to keeping it there. As a result, Erdogan’s policy toward Israel requires significant adjustment.
Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Malaysia have made their foreign aid to the AKP (Erdogan’s Justice and Reconciliation Party) dependent on Turkey’s continued adjustments to domestic and international policies, including the country’s position toward Israel.
The combination of foreign aid to the Islamist party and expectations by Islamic markets present in Turkey has pressured Erdogan to alter the country’s foreign policy. The events orchestrated around the flotilla are an ideological dividend to the green money market that has been propping up Erdogan’s government and Turkey since 2003.
Second, it is interesting that Erdogan’s increased interest in foreign policy coincided with Iranian uranium enrichment. Turkey enjoys a close relationship with the Saudis, who are very concerned about the rise of Shi’ites in global Islamic power. Iran is a particular concern since it is on the verge of acquiring an atomic capability that would overshadow the entire Sunni Arab dominated Gulf.
One could speculate that Erdogan’s role is not only to ensure that the Iranians are controlled, but also to turn Turkey into a state that could compete with the Iranians in the global Islamic milieu.
There are those in Washington and Brussels who have started to have serious concerns about Turkey’s direction. Much like most myopic Western policy decisions, Washington and Brussels were in favor of the purging of the nationalists from positions of power across all Turkish institutions. The nationalists were opposed to many legislative and constitutional changes put through by Erdogan’s government to meet the EU requirements for Turkey’s accession.
However, the purge didn’t stop with the nationalists, who were mostly secularists. It expanded to include those who supported a secular Turkish nation.
Both nationalists and secularists are being marginalized by the Islamists as they slowly take control of the Turkish economy. The control is coming from the billions of dollars of unknown origin that are funneled into the Turkish economy through what is essentially an Islamist moneylaundering machine. While economists can’t say for sure where these billions of dollars have come from, the evidence of an economy built on green money is very visible in the country and in its economic statistics.
Turkey is not an island. Much like the rest of the region, it has been swept up in the Islamic fundamentalism fervor.
While select countries in the region have been able to control this tide, Turkey’s Erdogan has read the tea leaves and his actions speak volumes about where he thinks the Islamist movement is heading.
The dynamics of the global Islamist movement are changing. For Iran, which rode the first wave of the Islamist movement, that era may be coming to an end within the next five to 10 years. Turkey, with a population similar to Iran, one foot in the EU and the second largest army in NATO, could certainly not resist joining such a popular movement. Indeed Turkey is a late bloomer in the Islamist movement. Historically an adversary of Iran, it is the Sunni version of its Shi’ite rival, now poised to move into a limelight that Iran might have hoped to keep for itself. Its Sunni majority makes it more palatable to other Islamic nations as well as its ties with Europe and NATO, along with a more acceptable leadership.
Turkey may decide to be pragmatic in the short term and continue some aspects of collaboration with Israel at the national level, but the long-term relationship is very much in danger and does not look promising.
Turkey can easily live without the Jewish state, while Israel could have used Turkey’s continued support. It will be difficult and painful in the short term for Israel to manage some of its relationships in the region without Turkey, but there are still many options on the table. Perhaps this will ultimately pave the way for Israel to establish more direct relationships with key regional stakeholders, including its adversaries.
The writer is using a pseudonym to protect his/her identity.