Home > Article > Turkey wants to lead Muslim world: Ties with Israel history

Turkey wants to lead Muslim world: Ties with Israel history


There is more to the story than the headlines. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a genius. He knows exactly what to do and where to take his country. He decided a few years ago that Turkey needs to begin moving beyond its borders. It saw Iran isolated, the Arabs constipated, Pakistan targeted, Nigeria bifurcated, Indonesia marginalized, and Bangladesh under the shadow of Bharat.

Turkey thus took the only logical step that is possible. He formed alliances with Pakistan and Iran, and built bridges with its former provinces of Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. Turkey has unparalleled good will in Pakistan. It has no issues with Iran. It needs the popularity in the Arab world to be accepted as a leader.

It now has that.

Israel disappointed Turkey when its was trying to bring a solution to the Palestine problem. In the middle of its hard work, Israel invaded Gaza and pured tremendous atrocities on the worlds largest prison.

A peeved Turkey walked off the stage and snubbed President Shimon Perez. Israel did not take a hint. When Tel Aviv imposed an embargo on the arms exports to Ankara, Turkey was furious.

The Turkish flotilla sending humanitarian supplies to Gaza had been planned for more than two years and is actually a sequel to earlier attempts to do the same.

Israel has a slight window of opportunity to recover the diplomatic territory that it has lost. However knowing the personality of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu it is highly unlikely that the Israeli Premier makes an apology.

WASHINGTON—Turkey moved closer to severing its relations with Israel, demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly apologize for his government’s high-seas military action against a pro-Palestinian flotilla this week in order to avert a formal diplomatic rupture.Senior Israeli officials responded Friday that their government would never apologize for an act of “self defense” and acknowledged that Israel could be on the verge of losing its closest military and economic ally in the Middle East.Such a development, these officials said, would raise new strategic and diplomatic challenges for Israel if Ankara reorients itself away from its historically pro-Israel and pro-Western stance.

“[We] hope that it won’t happen. But if it does, it will be very problematic for the region and Europe as well,” said a senior Israeli defense official in Washington. “It will mark another step of Turkey moving eastward.”

Turkey’s ambassador to the U.S., Namik Tan, laid out three demands for Israel to meet in order to maintain its relationship with Ankara.

In addition to the public apology from Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Tan said the Israeli government must consent to an international investigation into the commando operation, in which nine Turkish activists died on a Turkish-flagged ship, the Mavi Marmara. The Turkish envoy, a seasoned diplomat and former ambassador to Israel, also said Israel must take concrete steps to ease its military blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“Israel cannot find any better friend in the region than Turkey. And Israel is about to lose that friend,” Mr. Tan said.

The Turkish envoy, when pressed by reporters about whether Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was considering severing Ankara’s diplomatic relations with Israel, responded: “The government might be forced to take such an action.”

Senior Israeli officials indicated that Mr. Netanyahu was unlikely to concede to any of Turkey’s demands. They said that Israel itself would lead a probe into the raid on the Mavi Marmara, and that it remained undecided if foreign governments or organizations would be allowed to play a supporting role. They also rejected the prospect of Israel lifting its blockade on the Gaza strip, though added that Israel was willing to explore new ways to facilitate the flow of humanitarian aid into the Palestinian territory.

Referring to a complete lifting of the siege on the Gaza strip, a senior Israeli official said: “This is absolutely not going to happen.”

The militant Palestinian organization Hamas took power in the Gaza strip in 2007 and fought a month-long war with Israel beginning in late 2008. Hamas has launched thousands of rockets on Israel in recent years, many smuggled to Gaza by sea or through tunnels linking the territory to Egypt.

“Hamas would have unfettered access to massive armaments” if the blockade was lifted, the official said.

Mr. Tan’s comments Friday mark the latest in an escalation of threats from Mr. Erdogan’s government to dramatically alter Ankara’s diplomatic engagement with Israel. Israel has long viewed Turkey as its closest partner in the Middle East, where most Arab governments continue to eschew diplomatic ties. Israel has peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt, but these relationships haven’t blossomed on the commercial and strategic levels as have Israel’s ties to Turkey.

Mr. Tan said Friday that Israel would need to respond quickly to Turkey’s demands before Mr. Erdogan was forced to take further action. He emphasized that his country’s public was demanding its government take additional steps to punish Israel for its military operation.

Mr. Tan wouldn’t say if Israel would have to meet all of Turkey’s demands in order to salvage its relations with Ankara. But the diplomat stressed that a public apology from Mr. Netanyahu was the most important and the most pressing. “This would be the first step,” he said.

The Israeli-Turkish alliance grew up in the mid-1990s and was largely driven by the Turkish military, which at the time was engaged in a brutal war with Kurdish separatists and in need of the high-tech hardware and intelligence Israel could supply. At the time, Turkey was also similar to Israel in that it had cold or hostile relations with most of its neighbors to the east, and was in need of an ally.

But Turkey’s geopolitical position has significantly shifted since then. Ankara has other ready suppliers of military equipment, including its own growing production.

Meanwhile, with the Cold War over and a government that has resolved many problems with its neighbors, Turkey no longer feels surrounded.

Turkey also has changed domestically. Once aloof and immune to government decisions, Turkey’s military is no longer all-powerful. The chief of the General Staff has regular meetings with Mr. Erdogan and would be included ahead of time on any decision as important as this to the military, said Turkey analysts.

Senior Israeli officials said they hoped relations could revert back to the status they enjoyed before Mr. Erdogan’s election. “I hope we can go back to the good old days,” said the senior Israeli defense official.

The Obama administration has sought to play a mediating role between Israel and Turkey since the operation against the Mavi Marmara on Monday.

A senior U.S. official confirmed that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu raised the possibility of Turkey severing relations with Israel during a meeting Tuesday with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But the U.S. officials said the State Department has been pushing both sides to lower the rhetoric and seek common ground on the fallout from the operation and the investigation.

Still, Turkey’s envoy to Washington also said Ankara was disappointed by the Obama administration’s failure to publicly condemn Israel’s military action against the Turkish ship. He said the U.S. should also be publicly supporting the need for an international investigation into the probe.By JAY SOLOMON. “The U.S. should have been the first party to condemn this aggression,” he said. —Marc Champion in Istanbul contributed to this article. Write to Jay Solomon at jay.solomon@wsj.com

We have been predicting an Israeli-Turkish rift for a few years. The tiff has huge repercussions for the Middle East, Europe and Asia. Turkey has calculated that it will never be allowed to enter the EU. Ankara has determined that the EU is a Christian Club, and the admission of a Muslim state into the heart of Europe is not acceptable to the Europeans. Sarkozy has said it publicly, and Gerrt Wilders says it in many many words.

Mr. Wilders sends a message to Ankara that Brussels could not.  Therefore Turkey has a look East policy. It wants leadership of the Middle East. There is a colossal vacuum in the Middle East. The compliant kings and sultans of the Arab world are too busy in their hedonistic ventures to worry about Israel or leadership or unity.

Turkey has thus calculated that it can and will lead. Sending one flotilla has won over the hearts and minds of Palestinians, and Egyptians. The Pakistanis were already fans. The Iranians are on the same page.

If Turkey plans this right, it can and should be able to take the leadership of the Muslim world. It deserves to.

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