Sunday, February 8, 2009

Turkey's Putrefied Fish.


By Raphael Israeli 


An old Jewish story tells the tale of a Jew  in Poland,  who was threatened by his Gentile landlord that unless he ate  a pound of rotten fish, he would be evicted from his land. He ended up both  suffering the stench  and revulsion of eating,  and  then of  being deported from the land. What took place last week in Davos, when the Turkish Prime Minister coarsely attacked the Israeli President , hurling at him :”you have murdered children” !, was not only a disproportionate eruption of hatred and arrogance, but it may also augur ill for the future relations between the two countries. It was  secular and pro-Western Turkey who created an intimate strategic relationship with Israel since the 1980s, when it realized the creeping danger of Islamic fundamentalism around it and within it. Israel ought to be aware of the metamorphosis that Turkey  has been undergoing in recent years, and instead of continuing to ignore the insults  Ankara has been hurling, by associating with Israel’s worse enemies and trying to humiliate and calumniate  the Jewish state,  the latter, for fear of hurting those relationships, has been smoothing over  these eruptions of hatred and pretending that business is as usual. At the end  Israel will have both to eat the rotten fish and to be removed from the land.

            Since Israel’s founding, Turkey was considered part of the outer tier of three potential allies (the others were Iran and Ethiopia ) to counterbalance the inner tier of immediate neighbors and enemies. But in the meantime, Egypt, the largest and strongest of Israel’s enemies, which was to be neutralized by Ethiopia on the upper Nile,  signed peace with Israel, while the two others, both Muslim, who were also pro-Western and moderate, Iran under the Shah  and Turkey under great leaders like  Menderes, Demirel and Ozal, have changed course radically. The Shah was dismissed in 1977, and the Islamic regime which replaced him, grew anti-western and revolutionary overnight, and became the most heinous  and dangerous enemy of Israel. In Turkey a fundamentalist Muslim party took over in 2002, which since then has been edging towards the radical alliance against Israel.

            It is true that the Turkish-Israeli alliance  which peaked in the 1980s and 1990s, and was manifested not only in military collaboration, sponsored by the top brass of the military,  but also in economic and touristic interests, was developed when Islamic fundamentalism grew in the region, and the republican secularists of Turkey  wished to avoid being swept by it (though Turgut Ozal himself was a religious Muslim, to whom Ataturk’s heritage was dear). They were all supervised by the military establishment, who had on three instances taken over power since 1960, and again in 1998, when Necmettin Erbakan, the Islamist Prime Minister, was seen as edging too closely to Iran. But though the latter was ousted and  his party outlawed (and they still called that democracy),  his disciples, including Teyyip Erdogan, who was then Mayor of Istanbul and convicted to imprisonment for his fanatical conduct,  re-established that same movement, under a different name.

            The elections of December 2002 constitute, therefore, the watershed, when the compressed Islamic revival, which had been evident in  backward and poor rural Turkey, and less evident in the large cosmopolitan cities of Istanbul,  Ankara and Izmir,  which boasted their openness and secularism, broke to the surface and  returned Erdogan’s party  with a majority in Parliament. In the next round in 2007,  not only did that majority grow, but Abdullah Gul,  Erdogan’s deputy, was elected  to the Presidency, which until now was held by a secularist, to balance out the Islamist government. Furthermore, the secularists’ attempt to outlaw again the Islamic party at the constitutional court, was soundly defeated. The road was wide open to Islamize the country more thoroughly, including its foreign policy, in an apparent effort to restore the glory of the defunct Ottoman Empire. The authors of this revival certainly remembered, that when the Ottoman Caliphate was at its apex, it was Islamic, and its  decline started  after it embraced Western reforms.

            Probably because the Palestinians had been Ottoman subjects,  issues regarding them  have always been an emotional  matter for Turks. All the more so today when the Islamic government of Ankara embraces the Islamic trend of the Palestinian Hamas. This matter was clear even at the height of the honey moon of Israel’s relationship with Turkey, when Israel delivered, proportionately to its size and means,  more aid to  the earthquake stricken  parts of Western Turkey,  than any other nation. But  Israel knew that both the military in Turkey as well as civilian leaders like Tansu Ciler , were guarantors of the immutability of the solid relationship. Even Erbakan’s brutal removal from power in 1998,  by the army, was taken as “proof” that secularism was unshakable. Those among us who predicted even before the rise of Erbakan , the possible eruption of fundamentalist Islam, were dismissed as  preachers of doomsday . Even the rise of Erdogan in 2002, with an overwhelming majority in Parliament, was immediately mitigated when  commentators pointed out to Erdogan’s pragmatism Gul, who presided over the party temporarily, until his boss who was banned from power could  be reinstalled, calmed down the  terrified Europeans  regarding the future of Turkey, by showing his smiling face. That attitude was also calculated to appease the urban intellectual and secular elites in Turkey itself. But when the crisis broke out around Iraq  in 2003, and unlike the 1991 Gulf War where Turkey was the main American base during the  hostilities and their aftermath, now the new Muslim parliament forbade the use of Turkish territory for that purpose. Only then did the US and Israel begin to comprehend that something momentous had happened.

            Since they came to power, the Islamists in Turkey played their hand cautiously, fearing that their fate might be like Erbakan’s if they exaggerated their demands. But in their six years in power they have been stuffing the high command of the army with their people, so that no one would be there to dismiss them from power should they  push forward for the rapid Islamization of their society. Erdogan probably feels that this day is close, hence his rapprochement to Iran, Syria and Hamas. His intercession to bring about negotiations between Israel and Syria has not been geared to bring peace to Israel but the Golan  to Syria. He wanted to mediate also with Hamas an for the release of Shalit ,  not in order to bring peace to Israel (he had no word of condemnation for Hamas’ shelling of Israeli towns for years), but to produce a political recognition of Hamas and to press for the release of Hamas’ Parliament members from Israeli prisons). His brutal and uncivilized eruption against the Israeli President in Davos was nothing more than the spontaneous and emotional expression  of his sentiment against Israel and for militant Islam. His true face was unmasked.

            The outburst or enthusiasm in Istanbul, upon  Erdogan’s return from Davos,  accompanied by attacks against Jews and boycott of their businesses in the city, with which the crowds expressed their “pride” at the conduct of their leader, was a reflection of the popular mood, which Erdogan may need before the upcoming elections. But serious secularist circles  did criticize his unseemly conduct, because they understand the damage that can be caused their country as a result, not only in terms of strategic and security collaboration,  but also in terms of the moderate image Turkey is striving to project to the world. They understand that the horrors of the Armenian massacre, as well as the contemporary ravages against the Kurds in both Anatolia and in the raids into Iraqi territory, about which Israel keeps inexplicably silent, and even tries to plaster them over in the American public opinion, may now be exposed in all their scope, until they come to be seen in their real dimensions  and dwarf the Gaza operation as almost insignificant. Erdogan has been trying to minimize the damage, but it is doubtful whether he can now control the hatred toward Israel that he has triggered in Turkey  and in the Muslim world, and whether the incited populace can make the mitigating  reasoning that might cool down their present fury.


Raphael Israeli 

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


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