Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1291, (14 - 20 April 2016)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1291, (14 - 20 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan opens his arms to Israel

Having alienated his regional and international allies, Erdogan is now cosying up to Tel Aviv, with the Mavi Marmara incident receding into distant memory, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

Turks were perhaps shocked when their country first recognised Israel in the late 1940s. Ironically, bilateral relations were initiated in the era of Islamist duo Celal Bayar and Adnan Menderes, who ruled the country throughout the 1950s, until they were ousted in the military coup of 1960.

With the passage of the years, Turks became accustomed to the Hebrew state and its tourists, who flocked to Turkish beaches. This was true of all political parties and forces, regardless of ideological differences.

In fact, some influential parties even held the Justice and Development Party (AKP) responsible for that fateful incident — the attack on a humanitarian aid convoy — off the coast of Gaza in late May 2010, blaming the party for supporting people (a reference to the government-backed Mazlum Association) who had violated the sovereignty of a friendly state.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan understood this when he became president, though as prime minister he loudly condemned the despotic Israeli occupation, its hostile practices against the Palestinian people, and its infringement of Islamic sanctities. After the Israeli navy attacked the Mavi Marmara, a ship carrying humanitarian aid, he went further, setting impossible conditions.

This began Turkey’s isolation. As writer Murad Yektin said, Turkey stood alone and apart in the Middle East because of its misguided foreign policy. Pursuing a theocracy-based policy, Erdogan offered support to the Muslim Brotherhood everywhere. This was in sharp contrast to an era in which trust was the country’s byword and dialogue its programme.

This was evident when it acted as a mediator between Israel and Syria, under the personal auspices of Erdogan and with the blessing of “sincere brother” Bashar Al-Assad, or when it attempted to sponsor reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Fatah Party, or when it cooperated and partnered with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Gulf states other than Qatar to pursue strategies to confront the rule of the mullahs in neighbouring Iran.

Turkey also pursued diplomacy at odds with its US ally and Western Europe in general, which generated deep-seated differences on important issues, first and foremost the Syrian crisis. Washington continues to refuse Erdogan’s wish for a buffer zone inside Syria. Equally important is the decline in democracy and the restriction of media freedom under Erdogan’s repressive regime, as well as the increase in corruption and graft and half-hearted efforts to combat it.

Another writer, Sabahattin Onkibar, quoted an anonymous former intelligence officer who said that the US, EU and Russia do not want to see Turkey ruled by a man like Erdogan, a man without friends and allies. For all these reasons, there was no choice but to grasp at a friendship with Israel, but how?

Erdogan began to make plans to backtrack, methodically distributing roles and addressing his fellow citizens, on whose religious sentiment he had previously played. He moved gradually toward his goal, set months before. But caution was required in order to reassure his supporters that there was no unseemly rush toward the Zionist entity.

The vow taken on 1 June 2010 was clear to everyone in Anatolia. All believed Erdogan would not break his self-declared principles and would never abandon the three conditions he had set on rapprochement with Israel. A carefully prepared plan was thus necessary and set in motion, Erdogan moving slowly but surely toward its goal. But fate brought something unexpected with the bloody bombing of 19 March on Istiklal Street, which killed several foreigners, most of them Israeli.

A visit by Dore Gold, the director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, was the most high-level visit since the diplomatic break following the Mavi Marmara incident. Coming against the backdrop of the suicide bombing in the heart of Istanbul, the government nevertheless sought to ensure it went smoothly. Since most of the dead and a third of the wounded were Israeli, speculation and questions naturally proliferated.

As apprehensions mounted, just a few hours after the blast, the leadership of the AKP announced that Irem Aktas, the head of the party’s women’s division and the representative for an Istanbul suburb, would be immediately dismissed after she tweeted that she hoped the Israelis wounded in the attack, who were being treated in Turkish hospitals before being returned to their country, would die. The tweet sparked angry reactions in political circles in Tel Aviv.

The AKP quickly asserted that Aktas’s statement was a reflection solely of her personal views and not those of the party, which makes no distinction on the basis of ethnicity, confession or religion. The clarification was picked up by the Turkish media, especially audiovisual media, which is fully under Erdogan’s control.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu sent condolences to his Israeli counterpart, Binyamin Netanyahu, in which he expressed his and the Turkish people’s sorrow for the death and injury of Israeli citizens, adding that such criminal acts demonstrate the need for international cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

During his subsequent visit to Washington, Erdogan met with representatives of the Jewish community in the US and sought to reassure them that Turkish-Israeli relations would soon return to normal and that talks to this end would take place in April, which in fact happened.

With kind sincerity, Erdogan asked his Jewish “friends” to extend the necessary assistance to meet the serious shortage of electricity for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

A few days ago, unprompted by any particular occasion, Davutoglu said that his country’s negotiations with Israel, held in the UK, were moving ahead and the happy outcome would soon be announced. The words were directed at whomever it may concern. Will they stem the criticisms and take the pressure off Ankara?

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