Shalom Life | July 28, 2014

Op-Ed: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – With Friends Like This Who Needs Enemies?

A look at the once prosperous relationship between Turkey and Israel, and where it all went wrong

By: Simon Aaron

Published: July 24th, 2014 in News » World

A Little History:

Under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923 on the ashes of the defeated Ottoman Empire. Whereas the Ottoman Empire was more religious in nature operating under the supreme rule of the reigning Sultan, Atatürk wanted to create a modern state based on the foundations of secularism and democracy. It was such a state which gave way for strong ties between Israel and Turkey, with Turkey being one of the first countries to recognize the newly founded Jewish State (and the first Muslim Country to do so) in 1949. Since then, both states have cooperated closely on issues pertaining to defense, security, trade, tourism, and other economic ventures.. As a member of NATO, Turkey has also maintained good relations with the US, playing an integral role as an ally of the US during the Cold War and into the present age.

The Present Situation:

Over the last few years, Turkey has completely reversed its strategic partnership and warm ties with Israel. Prime Minister Erdoğan has made obscene statements against the US and Israel, vetoed Israel’s participation in joint-military exercises with the US and NATO, expelled Israel’s representatives to Turkey, and has allegedly divulged top secret information pertaining to the Mossad’s activities in Iran to Iranian leaders.

At a 2013 UN Conference, Erdoğan called Zionism a “crime against humanity,” and equated it with anti-Semitism and fascism. Furthermore, the Turkish leader has even gone so far as to compare Netanyahu with Hitler. In regards to Turkish-US Relations, Erdoğan has recently gone on record proudly stating that he is no longer directly speaking with President Obama.

How did things go wrong?

Turkish-Israeli relations began to sour after Erdoğan condemned Israel’s 2008 military operations in Gaza – Operation Cast Lead. Like the IDF’s current activities in Gaza, Cast Lead was an Israeli campaign aimed to curb the the tide of terrorist rocket attacks on Israel, and restore stability and quiet for Israel’s neighborhoods and cities. Relations diminished further in 2010, after Hamas Leader Khaled Mashaal met with Turkey’s FM in Syria. The final straw was broken that same year, when nine Turkish activists were killed in the Gaza Flotilla Incident. It was in the aftermath of this incident that Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador to Ankara.

Over the last few years, Israel and Turkey have entered into negotiations over the resumption of previous positive relations. At the behest of President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu went so far as to publicly apologize for the deaths of the nine Turkish Nationals killed onboard the Mavi Marmara as part of the 2010 Flotilla. This was one of the main requirements which Israel’s leaders struggled with during the negotiations, yet Erdoğan has continued to give Netanyahu the cold shoulder. This indicates that perhaps there are underlying factors which may explain Erdoğan’s behavior, and his unwillingness to resume positive relations with the Jewish State.

European Ambitions:

It is no secret that Turkey has long sought closer relations with Europe and full membership to the European Union. Constantinople (renamed Byzantium and today known as Istanbul) was the capital of the Roman and later Byzantine Empires, and the center of European art, science, and culture. Moreover, its geopolitical status as being the gateway between Western Europe and the Islamic World – in addition to controlling Mediterranean access to and from Russia vis-à-vis the Black Sea – furthers Turkey’s sense of importance and belonging to Europe and European Affairs.

Erdoğan has actively sought Turkey’s full acceptance to the EU, however, as negotiations between Turkey and the EU stalled, Erdoğan has pivoted away from Europe and the West, in favor of a ‘neo-Ottoman approach.’ As the once Ottoman Empire played a dominant role in Middle Eastern Affairs, Erdoğan is attempting to develop close relations with Arab and Muslim Leaders in the region to cement Turkey’s role as a stronger regional actor. While there are many different factors affecting any state’s foreign and defense policies, Erdoğan’s neo-Ottoman policies can help to explain his downgrading of relations with Israel and the US, while also shedding light on his support for Arab and Muslim leaders across political and religious divides (i.e. Sunni actors such as Khaled Mashaal and Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Qatar; and Shiite actors such as Iraq’s Maliki, and Iran).

Final Thoughts:

As Israel and Turkey are situated quite closely to one another, both states have common security, military, and foreign policy concerns. This is particularly true vis-à-vis the Syrian Civil War. Turkey and Israel both share a border with Syria, and therefore, they both have mutual concerns and an invested interest in the outcome of the bloody conflict. Thousands of refugees have sought refuge in Turkey, and Turkish and Syrian forces have engaged in direct combat with one another on several occasions throughout the civil war. In Northern Israel, the IDF has set up a field hospital to treat wounded Syrians, and has also engaged in direct fire with terrorist and military targets in Syria after coming under direct fire. Terrorist groups operating in Syria and throughout the Middle East such as Hezbollah, Al Nursa, and ISIS also pose a threat to both states, which furthers the need for close cooperation.

As such, rather than shunning Israel and the US, Turkey should be seeking to increase its cooperation with the West in order to effectively meet these very complex challenges and other taxing issues it is facing. Such policies would signal to the world that Turkey is an important and integral ally in the region, giving Erdoğan the respect and prestige he actively seeks. Coupled with domestic democratic reforms, negotiations to end the decades long occupation of Cyprus, and a shift away from radical Islamist groups, Erdoğan would be sending a very positive message to the West. In such a scenario, Erdoğan would have proved to Europe that Turkey is committed to taking real productive steps to address the issues preventing its ascension to the EU, and that it is in prime position to at last join the highly prestigious European club.

Op-Ed: A Firsthand Perspective from Israel Op-Ed: A Firsthand Perspective from Israel TrendingWhat You Missed in the News: July 20 - 27 What You Missed in the News: July 20 - 27 Trending Son of Hamas Leader: Hamas Does Not Seek Coexistence, but Conquest [VIDEO] Trending
 

Eva Green to Star in Upcoming Tim Burton Film

July 28, 2014 | By Ashley Baylen
Eva Green to Star in Upcoming Tim Burton Film

The 'Penny Dreadful' actress is in talks for Burton's adaptation of 'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children'.

Read More

Seth Rogen Chugs Beer From The Stanley Cup [VIDEO]

July 28, 2014 | By Ashley Baylen
Seth Rogen Chugs Beer From The Stanley Cup [VIDEO]

The 'This Is The End' star drank beer from hockey's biggest trophy during a charity event in Montreal.

Read More

One Direction’s Zayn Malik Receives Death Threats After Tweeting #FreePalestine

July 28, 2014 | By Ashley Baylen

The Muslim-born pop singer lost quite a few fans on Sunday

Read More

Lea Michele Joins ‘Sons of Anarchy’

July 28, 2014 | By Ashley Baylen
Lea Michele Joins ‘Sons of Anarchy’

Glee's Rachel Berry will be going from glee club to biker gang.

Read More

Pro-Israel Muslims Seek Alternative to Radical Islam

July 28, 2014 | By Maayan Jaffe

The voice of Arabs who call on their peers to fight the inexorable advance of political Islamism over Islam is growing strong

Read More

The Nosh Pit - Kosher Donut Recipes

July 28, 2014 | By Ashley Baylen

Now that donuts have surpassed cupcakes as the latest dessert fad, let's celebrate with these yummy kosher recipes.

Read More

Hamas Used Children to Build Tunnels, Of Which 160 Died

July 28, 2014 | By Daniel Koren
Hamas Used Children to Build Tunnels, Of Which 160 Died

The Institute for Palestine Studies reports that children's "nimble bodies" helped in building the secret tunnels

Read More

Zane Caplansky in Hot Water After Deciding to Sponsor Palestinian Film Festival

July 28, 2014 | By Daniel Koren
Zane Caplansky in Hot Water After Deciding to Sponsor Palestinian Film Festival

The Toronto-based celebrity chef, and noted pastrami enthusiast, wants to "make lox, not war"

Read More

More Headlines