Turkey\\\'s foreign policy

24 جولائی 2010
AT THE end of December 2008 Israel unleashed “Operation Cast Lead”, its bombing campaign against Gaza. Its aim was to counter rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas, which controls Gaza. Three weeks later some 1,400 Palestinians had died. “I personally warned Ehud Barak [Israel’s defence minister] that we would react very seriously if Israel did anything in Gaza,” recalls Ali Babacan, then Turkish foreign minister and now deputy prime minister.
The Gaza war proved to be a turning point in Turkey’s relations with Israel. A day before Israel attacked, Turkish intermediaries felt they were on the verge of clinching a peace deal between Israel and Syria. “The Israelis misled us,” fumes a Turkish diplomat. Turkey’s fury became public soon afterwards, when Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, stormed off a panel he was sharing with the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, at the Davos World Economic Forum. “You Israelis know how to kill,” he shouted.
In Turkish eyes Israel proved Mr Erdogan right on May 31st when its commandos raided the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship leading a civilian flotilla trying to carry aid to Gaza past Israel’s blockade. Nine Turks were killed in the attack. Israel claims it acted in self-defence. It also accuses the organiser of the flotilla, a Turkish charity known as IHH, of being a front for global jihadists. Turkey denies this and has called for a public apology from Israel and a UN-led investigation. Unless Israel agrees, the Turks may sever diplomatic ties altogether.
Some Western countries attribute the apparent eastward realignment of Turkish foreign policy in recent years to the Islamist roots of Mr Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development (AK) party. This week’s Turkish vote in the UN Security Council against sanctions on Iran for its nuclear programme have reinforced this view. Some fear the West has “lost” Turkey (a view echoed this week by Robert Gates, the American defence secretary, who blamed the European Union for not doing more to encourage Turkish membership).
On Israel, though, the government may have gone too far. Even Fethullah Gulen, Turkey’s most influential Muslim cleric, has lambasted the flotilla organisers. Mr Erdogan’s fiery support for Hamas and his salvos against Israeli “state terrorism” may encourage the  radicals rather than appease them., which hardly makes Turkey seem an attractive prospect for the EU.
What next? For all its bluster, the government seems reluctant to sink relations with Israel altogether. A UN-sponsored commission on the flotilla incident could perhaps buy time (see article). Mr Babacan argues that relations with Israel will “never be the same”. Yet the cost to Turkey of cutting ties with Israel would be high. It may go down well in the Arab street, where Mr Erdogan is now a hero, but Turkey is not about to be able to solve the Israel-Palestine problem on its own.
The prevailing wisdom in AK is that its activism in the region makes it more valuable to the EU. As for America, the hope is that because it needs Turkey in Iraq and Afghanistan, it will put up with a spot of bother. Israel and Iran will severely test these theories.
(Courtesy The Economist)