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Turkey Becomes Entangled

The Iranian nuclear issue and the chain of disasters that the people of the Middle East have brought upon themselves, called the "Arab Spring," have placed Turkey in a rather bleak situation.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Photo Credit: swiss-image.ch/E.T. Studhalter

Turkey is being sucked into the increasing power vacuum in Syria, while on one hand it acts to overthrow the regime of Assad  and the ‘Alawites, on the other hand it doesn’t want Syria to disintegrate. Erdoğan, like Netanyahu, also fears the spread of weapons of mass destruction into irresponsible hands, and the presence of Hizb’Allah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Syria is very troubling in this context. The Turkish parliament gave a green light to the government to go to war with the Assad regime, and Erdoğan speaks of war against Syria as if it is something that may happen at any moment. The downing of the Turkish jet in June of this year, the rumors of the execution of the pilots in cold blood, border incidents between the two states, in which civilians and military people from both sides are killed, might easily deteriorate into a wider conflict with many casualties, because in this case Assad will fight with the mindset of “Let me die with the Philistines.”

But Erdoğan has another reason to avoid an inclusive confrontation with Syria: the military. A fairly large proportion of Turkish soldiers are Kurds, and they may refuse to fight or they may even  sabotage fighting equipment and the actions of the Turkish military if they feel that Kurdish interests are endangered. The Kurdish soldiers will not fight against their brothers in Syria in order to prevent them from having a state, and in general it is not clear how much motivation the Turkish military has to go to an elective war with Syria on Syrian soil.

The opposition in Turkey accuses Erdoğan of harming relations with Syria in order to engage it in war and vanquish it, and then to go to elections in 2014 to win the presidency of Turkey. The opposition also accuses Erdoğan with intending to change the constitution in such a way as to make it into a presidential regime, which would award to the president most of the executive authorities, as in the United States or France. A war against the exhausted Syrian military would necessarily bring victory to Erdoğan, in the battle field as well as the ballot box. He of course denies that it is his intention to pit Turkey against Syria in a war, just to promote his name and his status.

The Role of Egypt   In the context of the regional chaos that Erdoğan has gotten Turkey into, he seeks friends who will consult with him and support him.  Egypt of the Muslim Brotherhood is a natural choice. The Turkish and Egyptian navies are holding a joint exercise these days. The exercise, which is called “The Sea of Friendship” (Bahr al-Sadaqa), is held in Egypt. The Turkish navy participates in the exercise with two frigates, a fast attack ship, a tanker, two landing crafts, two helicopters, a battalion of marine infantry and a naval commando team. This is the second time that the Egyptian and Turkish navies are training together. The declared purpose of the event is for the two fleets to develop cooperation and the capability for joint action.

A few days ago, on the 6th of October, President Mursi spoke in front of an audience of tens of thousands of military people, on the occasion of the 39th anniversary of the victory of the October War and one hundred days since Mursi assumed power. He is well aware of Egypt’s economic problems that force it to be dependent on the mercy of others and to carry out a policy that is not consistent with the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. To strengthen Egypt’s independence he requested economic help from Turkey in the amount of a billion dollars, and he got it.

Mursi presented his achievements since he rose to power at the end of June as the first president of Egypt who was elected in free elections, but emphasized also the challenges that Egypt faces.

His detractors, despite this, say that Mursi is not perfect, and victory in elections is not a guarantee of proper performance. They accuse him of appointing his friends according to loyalty to the Muslim Brotherhood, not according to their abilities.  The event of the 6th of October, which included a military march as part of the ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of Egypt’s war with Israel in 1973, was a demonstration of the Muslim Brotherhood’s power, both in Egypt and outside it.

About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.


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