Along with Iran, Turkey has led calls outside of the Arab world against Israel and Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem/al-Quds as the capital of Israel.
Previously, Erdogan threatened to sever ties with Israel over the Jerusalem/al-Quds controversy. In spite of being the fist Muslim majority country to establish ties with Israel, Turkey has, under the Premiership and now Presidency of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had increasingly poor relations with Tel Aviv.
The first major issue to threaten Turkish-Israeli relations was the Gaza flotilla raid in 2010. At that time, Israeli commandos illegally bordered the Turkish aid ship MV Mavi Marmara in international waters, killing 9 Turks. The ship was part of a wider flotilla and road convoy attempting to bring aid to the besieged Gaza strip.
Since then, relations between the two countries have quietly improved, before plummeting to new lows this year. Israel’s unilateral support of Kurdish ethno-nationalism in Iran, prompted harsh words from Erdogan against both Kurds and Israel.
As I wrote at the time,
“What is crucial to understand is that in holding the referendum against the wishes of all regional powers except for Israel and against the wishes of all international powers including both Russia and the United States, the Iraqi Kurdish regime took the calculated gamble that the lone support of Israel would be more valuable than the multitude of enemies who would be and have been galvanised by the vote.
But more interestingly, the Israeli leadership, in putting themselves out in favour of Kurdish secession for the first time (prior to this, Israeli leaders either spoke about such matters covertly or with statements laced in innuendo), Israel put its traditionally good relationship with Turkey on the line, just as the US has in Syria by supporting Kurdish militants there.
Except for the very public row over the illegal Israeli raid of a Turkish aid flotilla bringing aid to Gaza in 2010, Israel’s relationship with the Republic of Turkey has generally been positive. It could even be fair to say that Turkey has been Israel’s closet partner in the Middle East throughout this time and certainly this has been true since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 turned Iran from a partner into an adversary.
Erdogan, both as President and before that, as Prime Minster of Turkey, has had an on again/off again relationship with Tel Aviv. Prior to the Kurdish vote, the spats Erdogan had with Israel have either been over the Israeli raid on the infamous Gaza Flotilla, something which is still viewed as an insult to Turkey by most parties in Ankara, or otherwise due to Erdogan’s occasional statements in favour of greater justice for Palestine.
In either case, both of these related spats are due to a matter of pride and geo-political stature, rather than an issue which directly effects Turkish security. Until now, Turkey’s relationship to the Palestine issue has been generally more remote than that of the Arab world and post-1979 Iran.
This may change however, but not because of anything happening in Palestine per se. Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s support of Kurdish secessionism in Iraq, is from a Turkish perspective, the equivalent of a Turkish leader supporting the creation of a Hezbollah led Islamic Republic in southern Lebanon.
Furthermore, due to Israel’s longstanding relations with Iraqi Kurds, the analogy can be carried further. It would be as if Turkey supported Hezbollah with arms, funds and geo-political good will for decades before then calling for a new Hezbollah led state. One only needs to realise that Israel wants to essentially provoke a US led war on Iran due to Tehran’s relationship with Hezbollah, in order to know how seriously Turkey takes Israel’s stance on Iraqi Kurds, in this context.
Israel has grown accustomed to being at odds with the Arab world and Israel has exploited latent divisions in the Arab world so much so that Saudi Arabia will likely soon join Egypt and Jordan as two Arab countries that have open relations with Tel Aviv. Israel is also used to antagonising the Islamic Republic of Iran, but Israel is not used to having Turkey as an enemy, because such a thing has never occurred.
Unless Israel distances itself from Iraqi Kurds, both covertly and publicly, the world may be facing the spectre of the two most important non-Arab states in the Middle East, Turkey and Iran, both becoming adversaries to Israel.
In this sense, some individuals within the Israeli deep state may have seen Turkey’s growing relations with Iran as a threat. However, while it is not difficult to imagine some Israelis thinking like this, the logic behind such thinking is incredibly flawed to the point of being ignorant.
Like Russia, Turkey’s relationship with Iran is built on mutual economic benefits, geo-political realism, petro-politics and the need to intensify regional cooperation in preparation for the arrival of One Belt–One Road in the Middle East. Turkey is no more ideologically in-line with Iran than Russia is. Each country has a completely different state ideology and if anything, were Erdogan to fully bring Sunni Islamism to the front and centre of formerly secular Turkey, this will actually mean that Turkey will be even more ideologically different from Iran vis-a-vis a more religiously neutral Kemalist state.
Erdogan is ultimately not an ideologue, even though his language might often obscure such a fact. Erdogan is actually a pragmatist with a very loud and sometimes loose tongue. Erdogan is a man whose co-opting of Turkish civil society ought to read as a master text for leaders looking to consolidate their rule, gradually remove or placate opponents and remake civil institutions to work in one’s personal favour. Few could pull such a thing off and no Turkish leader since Ataturk has made such a profound mark on the Turkish state.
Likewise, Erdogan’s geo-politics is equally pragmatic. Erdogan has not distanced himself from NATO, the US and EU because of some desire to join ‘club Eurasia’. He has become part of ‘club Eurasia’ because he realised that this will be to Turkey’s economic benefit and that Russia and Iran are more easy to work with than the EU. The contest between an increasingly closed and economically retarded EU and China’s One Belt–One Road, which in any case will still give Turkey access to the EU through the backdoor, was not a matter of ideology, it was a matter of obvious self-interest.
Furthermore, even Erdogan’s decision to quietly shift from a position of ‘Assad must go’ to working in the Astana group and tacitly conceding that the Ba’ath party will remain in power in Damascus is a totally pragmatic move.
Erdogan switched teams in order to join the winning side in respect of Syria. He thought he’d be able to get a piece of the Syrian pie by calling for regime change and now that he’s sensed that no regime change will occur, he’s increasingly linking himself with Russia and Iran as a ‘master peacemaker’ even though in this respect, Russia is doing most of the heavy lifting.
Here too Erodgan in exiting from the US camp over Syria , he has likewise exited the Israeli camp, though not for ideological reasons.
In this sense, Israel has acted purely on emotion with the Kurds. If Turkey cuts off access to northern Iraq, in cooperation with Baghdad, the oil that Kurds wanted to illegally sell through Israel, will never be able to see the light of day. Furthermore, in assuming Turkey’s President to be far more ideologically driven than he is, Israel has exposed its own ideological flaws and its own latent desires for illegal territorial expansion, as outlined in the 1982 Yinon Plan. Israel has not only exposed its ambition but moreover, Israel has exposed the fact that its greed has got the better of geo-strategic clarity.
With the world focused on Erdogan’s rhetoric towards Israel, people ought to focus more on Israel’s actions towards Turkey. These are actions of hostility and while Israel might not admit this, Turkey has already stated it for the world to see. By so publicly opposing Turkey at a time when Turkey’s geo-political re-orientation has given Ankara a new boost of confidence, Israel is picking a fight it will ultimately loose unless concessions and retractions are made soon.
Israel has just picked up a new enemy in the Middle East and it is the one with the Middle East’s largest and along with Iran, its most capable armed forces”.
Today, Erdogan called Israel a “terrorist state” and a “killer of children” while slamming Israel as an “oppressive, occupation state”.
Speaking at a ruling AKP party congress in the Central Anatolian province of Sivas, Turkish President Erdoğan blasted Israel as a 'terrorist state' and 'killer of children' as the crisis over U.S Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital continues to escalate.
— News_Executive (@News_Executive) December 10, 2017
As a NATO member (however uncomfortable, a NATO member), should Erodgan up the stakes in his opposition to Israel, things could get incredibly difficult for the US. The US maintains its own nuclear weapons on Turkish soil at Incirlik Air Base, which is also used as a major air base for the US Air Force. Germany once too had an presence at Incirlik but was effectively kicked out by Ankara earlier this year.
If Turkey threatened the US with the deprivation of Incirlik or suspension of NATO membership, the alliance could crumble as currently constituted. If Turkey took things a step further and demanded the removal of US nuclear weapons from Turkish soil, such a move would constitute a profound international crisis.
It remains to be seen what Ankara will do in respect of the promised diplomatic sanctions against Tel Aviv.
In many ways, as a traditional US ally and Israeli partner, Turkey is well placed to make a move on the issue of Palestine that the US could not stop without risking a dynamic shake-up of not only regional political alignments (which are already well under way), but more importantly, a shake-up of the US ability to use Turkish facilities for its own warplanes and weapons.
If Turkey decides to take stronger steps against Israel, the US will experience catch-22, even by its own double standards.
While Erdogan is certainly weighing his options, because Erdogan has always wanted to assert Turkey as a born-again leader in the post-Ottoman space, intervening in Palestine in one way or another, could compensate for Erdogan’s failure to achieve his initial goals in Syria.
In Syria, Erdogan has re-aligned himself with the victorious side, but in Palestine, Turkey could take a bold move of one kind or another in order to fulfil Erdogan’s long standing dream of being a hero to the Arab and Muslim world. Unlike in Syria, where his intervention was sectarian in nature, in Palestine, Erdogan would be doing so with the support of much of the world and ostensibly much of the local population which has been heaping increasing amounts of praise on the Turkish President.
This is not to say that Turkey will militarily intervene in Palestine, but Turkey possesses many diplomatic, economic and military-logistical tools at its disposal which can be employed to relieve Palestine.
Iran is already considered an enemy by both the US and Israel. Turkey on the other hand, by going against its traditional allies, would in some ways be making an even more seismic statement, if indeed, further action is taken by Ankara over the issue of Palestine.