Sunday, November 08, 2009

Erdogan Again


In the past two years, we have seen repeated crises in Turkish-Israeli relations. Most of these were set off by Turkish condemnations of Israeli policies and military operations. A few of these spats involved warnings issued by the Turks to both Israelis and American Jews that recognition of the Armenian Genocide by either Israel or American Jewish organizations would lead to irreparable harm to the Turkish-Israeli relationship. Time and again, Israeli commentators and politicians have tried to assuage the Turks as well as the Israeli public. "Everything is okay," and "military relations continue to be excellent and are immune from these political disturbance. Those sounding this line, however, are running out of credibility very quickly. Turkey's prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan , seems intent on destroying ties between the two countries. Until now, the highlight was his angry outburst at Davos (see clip below). The recent cancellation by Turkey of an air force drill that was supposed to have included Israel also caused a stir. But Erdogan's remarks (Ha'aretz) today, ahead of the Organization of the Islamic Conference's meeting in Istanbul, take the cake.

Erdogan's statements included a defense of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir and the incredible assertion that Muslims are incapable of carrying out genocide (I will not mention the obvious here; suffice to say that millions of Armenians feel very differently about this matter). Erdogan also charged that Israel had committed worse crimes in Gaza than Sudanese paramilitary forces had in Darfur. All this comes on the heels of the General Assembly's endorsement of of the Goldstone report. It is clear that the current Turkish government does not believe that Israel is an important ally. However important the ties between the armed forces of the two states might be, Erdogan's attacks on Israel since 2007 make him an enemy rather than a friend of the Jewish state.


Charlie H. Ettinson said...

I think the Turkish PM is playing a bit of a dangerous game here. He seems to be choosing positions that will ingratiate him to the Muslim "street" and to regional middle eastern powers. If he's successful, then he won't need the relationship with Israel, at least not as much as Israel would need Turkey. On the other hand, this decision distances him quite a bit from the EU and his country's bid to become a member of that club. How would a country like German feel about accepting a member state whose leader welcomes 'the butcher of Darfur' despite the indictments against him and who now increadibly claims that by virtue of his religion, he could never have committed genocide?
In many ways, however, it's really a choice between progress in the EU or stagnation and regression by aligning itself with a world that is increasingly alienated from the Western world.

Amos said...

I think he believes that the U.S., Israel, and the EU need Turkey more than Turkey needs them. Maybe Erdogan has given up on the goal of EU membership; it certainly seems like it is becoming more and more elusive. I am not sure that Turkey is doomed to stagnation if it doesn't join the EU. It is very well-positioned economically and geopolitically.

Noah K said...

There's also the Syrian angle. It looks like Syrian-Turkish relations are totally normalized, with this old territorial dispute totally forgotten. A lot on this on Syria Comment (I know, I know...)

Oh, and by the way, Amos, was noticing this Berkeley sociology prof.'s book today, advertised on his office door in Barrows:

Maybe Erdogan isn't only playing; maybe he really is from the Muslim "street!"

Amos said...

The Syrian angle is really part of the larger regional angle. As Charlie says, Turkey seems to be pursuing a closer relations with the Arab world.

That book looks pretty interesting, and the Syria Comment news round up is useful.

Tangent: people are always talking about Erdogan's moderation, but it seems that when it comes to Israel, this man can't control himself. I really think the Islamists, no matter how moderate, have a hard time hacking it. Israel's existence will always present a big problem to them.

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

I wonder if the latest comments about Muslims being incapable of genocide is some sort of posturing prior to a coordinated move, with Syria, to lash out at the Kurds? I'm really just thinknig out loud here because I don't know the dynamics of that conflict, but I still wonder...

I don't think Turkey needs the EU, as such, but I think if faced with a decision between closer ties with the west or the Middle East/Muslim powers, Turkey will be hurt be distancing itself from the West.

I know the important position Turkey occupies could insulate it from some fallout, but if I recal properly, when the US invated Iraq and Turkey would not allow and invasion from its territory, the US simply worked around it. I know this may not be a definitive example, but the point is, Turkey can be "worked around."

I also wonder (I'm on a meandering course here) how much of this is the infuence of a single person driving the messaging from Turkey and how much of it comes from the rest of Turkish society. How much appetite is there for this kind of talk in Turkey?

I ask these questions, and I really don't know the answer.

J. said...

I think they're good questions to be asking.

Regarding Turkey's orientation towards the Middle East, I think that it makes a lot of sense from the Turkish perspective for a number of reasons. One is the Kurdish issue. Turkey has pursued a very active and successful Iraq policy as part of which it has pretty much brought the Iraqi Kurdish leadership on its side against the PKK. This policy required it to work closely with the Iraqi government and the KRG. Turkey`s intensive involvement in Iraq has also allowed it to forge really good relations with almost all of its political players. The main impetus may have initially been the Kurdish factor, but it turns out that Turkey now thinks in much bigger terms - witness the recent opening of a Turkish consulate in the southern port city of Basra.

Secondly, Turkey's influence in its immediate neighbourhood is potentially much greater than the type of influence it could exercise in its dealings with the EU. Iraq and Syria, at least, are hardly forces to be reckoned with. Turkish companies have found ready markets in both and they're likely to cooperate in Turkey's vision of becoming a regional energy transit hub. Turkish oil and gas companies and engineering/construction companies already have a presence in Iraq, where they have a real advantage over their western counterparts.

From what I've read, the Syrian-Turkish relationship has been mutually beneficial from an economic perspective as well, but I don`t know much about the details. I think a lot of trade is agricultural produce and food-based, but maybe there's more to it. To me, the main reason for the great improvement seen in the relationship in the past decade is that Syria stopped bothering Turkey and abandoned its support for the PKK in the late 1990s. Once that happened, it no longer made sense for Turkey not to make up with Syria.

One interesting development, though, is that Turkey continues to screw both Syria and Iraq on the water front. Neither country can do a whole lot other than ask Turkey to increase the flow of water.

While Turkey's eastward shift makes sense to me, I'm really puzzled by the irrational and erratic public statements Erdogan adopts on Israel. Here, I think it really is the ideology and personal beliefs/prejudices of Erdogan and other members of his party that is driving policy. I can't explain the tone he adopts as just a means of getting more domestic support.

That's all for my ramblings today folks.

Nobody said...

Amos said...

The Syrian angle is really part of the larger regional angle. As Charlie says, Turkey seems to be pursuing a closer relations with the Arab world.

The Arabs will probably see it as a kind of Turkey, Iran and the Shia crescent axis. It's very likely to increase their paranoia

Nobody said...

The fundamental truth about our place in the Middle East is that neither Turkey, nor Sunni Arabs can be our allies. We belong to minorities just as the Kurds, Christians, Shias and others. We are not benefiting from the status quo, nor we should be interested in preserving it. If and when Syria disintegrates, this may trigger a massive shift and redrawing of the maps. At this point all pieces of the puzzle will fall into their place and some kind of an alliance of non Sunni Arab minorities will become possible.

Nobody said...

To enrich your collection of Erdogan's pearls.

And a controversial speech given by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Cologne Arena in February 2008 has hardened the fronts even further. Assimilation, Erdogan told his fellow Turks in Germany, is "a crime against humanity."

Source: Spiegel