Make no mistake about it: There are troubling winds blowing in Ankara.
Today’s announcement that Turkey has issued arrest warrants for four senior IDF officers connected to the Mavi Marmarra incident was hardly a surprise to anyone who has followed Turkish-Israel ties over the past decade. Ties between Ankara and Jerusalem may have been frozen since May, 2010. But ill winds have been blowing between the two countries since Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was elected in 2003.
Last year, Prime Minister Netanyahu humiliated the IDF by apologising for the incident in which IDF soldiers defended themselves by killing the terrorists who attacked them. Following the announcement, Hebrew-language papers were full of expectation that Israel and Turkey would patch up their relationship. But it didn’t happen.
Then, this February, Netanyahu announced he would accept most of Turkey’s demands; ever since, the media has been on watch for an announcement that full relations would be resumed.
But again, reports of “re-normalization” proved premature: Erdoğan answered Netanyahu’s capitulation with a new demand – written Israeli guarantees that the naval blockade of Gaza would be lifted. No written commitment, no renewal of ties, Erdoğan said.
The pattern is clear: Erdoğan sets demands on Israel, Israel refuses, then eventually accepts, until Erdoğan moves the goal line and spells out a new set of demands.
Taken in context of Erdoğan’s Islamist party, his attitude towards Jerusalem reveals a clear path towards dismantling Attaturk’s secular Turkish republic and replacing it with an Islamic state.
Take Erdoğan’s November, 2012 explosion in which he called Israel a “terrorist state.” Or his 2009 description of Gaza as an ‘open-air prison”. Seen locally, both remarks were comment about Israeli attacks on terrorists in Gaza.
But there is a wider context that must be appreciated in order to understand Erdoğan’s furious responses to Israeli actions in Gaza, and ultimately to the Marmara incident. In order to fully understand Erdoğan’s antagonism towards Israel, one must consider also his repeated attempts to purge the military of potential “enemies,” his moves to emasculate the judiciary, and his ongoing war against journalists. It bears mentioning that more journalists are in Turkish jails than any other country in the world.
In addition, it is significant that Erdoğan’s Turkey has made common cause with radical rulers and regimes around the Middle East, from Mahmoud Ahmedinejad in Iran to Muammar Ghadaffi in Libya and Bashar al-Assad in Syria. While it is true that Turkey’s relationship with Syria has soured since the latter country has been fighting a civil war, it is clear that Erdoğan is more concerned about Syrian refugees streaming across the Turkish border than he is about the fate of the individuals who have been displaced by the fighting over the border.
That wider context, then, is that Erdoğan, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and other members of the ruling AKP party have moved to align Turkey with international Islamist elements, and away from Israel.
“As an Islamist, he never really approved of Turkey’s close relationship with Israel, and as an Islamist, he has sought to consolidate power and to undo the safeguards of democracy,” said the late analyst Barry Rubin. “Those desires are absolutely related.”
More recently, Erdoğan has unleashed a series of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish remarks that suggest he’s got the Protocols of the Elders of Zion on his bedside table. He blamed Turkey’s recent mine disaster that claimed the lives of nearly 250 Turkish miners on “Jews,” and has also suggested that Jews and Israel were behind the 2011 ouster of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.