Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been labeled by some in Israel as a “Hitler of sorts.” His latest threats and contemptuous tone belie a deep hatred for the Jewish State.
Erdogan just announced that Ankara is freezing defense trade with Israel and that his nation’s navy will step up surveillance patrols of the eastern Mediterranean Sea (a move that may lead to confrontation with Israel). Erdogan also warned of more sanctions against Israel. His belligerent tone serves to deepen the tension that already exists between Israel and Turkey.
Erdogan recently gave a speech at the Turkish parliament, during which he raised the level of rhetoric against Israel. In an attempt to exact his “pound of flesh” and get as much mileage out of the Mavi Marmara incident as possible, he is demanding that, in addition to the apologies and promise of compensation that Israel has already made to the families of the nine Turks who were killed, Israel must also lift the Gaza blockade as a pre-condition for normalizing the Turkish-Israeli relations. Clearly, Erdogan is using his intimidation of Israel to curry favor with the Sunni Arab and Muslim world, upstaging Iran’s long-standing support for Hamas and the Palestinians. What is also apparent to policy-makers in Jerusalem is that Erdogan is more interested in humiliating Israel than he is in ending the dispute between the two countries.
The Washington Times reported (8/24/11) that Israel’s outgoing ambassador to Turkey, Gabby Levy, described Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan as a “fundamentalist who hates the Jewish State on religious grounds.” This was contained in a confidential report that was sent by the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, James F. Jeffrey, to Washington and then released on the Wikileaks website. The U.S. ambassador’s cable pointed out that Levy “dismissed political calculations as a motivator for Erdogan’s hostility towards Israel, arguing that the Prime Minister’s party had not gained a single point in the polls from his bashing of Israel.” Levy attributed Erdogan’s hostility to his “deep seated emotions. He hates us (Jews) religiously and his hatred is spreading.”
The timing of Erdogan’s latest outburst coincided with a United Nations report called the Palmer Report, named for Geoffrey Palmer, New Zealand’s former Prime Minister, who headed the U.N. inquiry panel addressing the takeover of the Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, by Israeli naval commandos on May 31, 2010, which resulted in the deaths of nine people. The report concluded that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip is justified, but characterized the Israeli use of force as “excessive and unreasonable.” The report also blamed Turkey for not doing enough to stop the run on the blockade. “The flotilla acted recklessly in attempting to break the naval blockade,” the report stated. “The majority of the flotilla participants had no violent intensions, but there exist serious questions about the conduct, true nature and objectives of the flotilla organizers, particularly the IHH,” which is a “radical Islamist organization based in Turkey with strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas in Gaza.”
While some on the U.N. panel argued that Israel used “excessive force,” the Palmer Report made it clear that “Israeli Defense Forces personnel faced significant and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara requiring them to use force for their own protection. Three soldiers were captured, mistreated, and placed at risk by those passengers. Several others were wounded.” The report also affirmed that “humanitarian vessels should allow inspection and stop or change course when requested.”
Jerusalem immediately accepted the Palmer findings, released last weekend by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Ankara, on the other hand, directed by Erdogan, declared the report “null and void.” Ironically, it was Turkey that initially demanded an official UN probe of the events aboard the Mavi Marmara.
Erdogan was a protégé of the first Islamist Prime minister of Turkey, Necmettin Erbakan (1996-1997), who was removed from office by the Turkish military. Erbakan mentored the younger Erdogan, and Erbakan’s Welfare Party was transformed by Erdogan into the AKP party. Erbakan yielded a great deal of influence through a transnational network called Milli Gorus (MG) or “National Vision.” MG cooperates with radical cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi through the so-called European Council for Fatwas and Research (ECFR), headed by al-Qaradawi. Erbakan’s fanatical Jew-hatred was reflected in a 2007 Middle East Media Research Institute rebroadcast of a television interview in which Erbakan alleged that “Jews had sought world domination since the delivery of the Torah.” According to Erbakan, “the safety of Israel …means that they will rule the 28 countries from Morocco to Indonesia … All the Crusades were organized by the Zionists.” Erbakan insisted that “racist imperialist Zionism organized 19 Crusades just to reach its goals. To organize the Crusades, it used the Christians.” Erbakan, who referred to Jews as “bacteria,” also claimed Jews invented Protestantism. In a particularly notable flight of paranoia, he declared that a Jewish man named “Kabbalah” originated a scheme for world conquest.
Erbakan originated the call for a close Turkish-Islamic Republic of Iran relationship, which Erdogan has followed as well, albeit he now fancies himself as the reviver of the old Ottoman Empire – an historic rival of the Persian Empire. Having won three consecutive elections, Erdogan has been able to consolidate his power, and practically eliminated the power of the secular military. He has replaced the military’s top brass, as well as the judiciary’s, with his own loyalists. Erdogan feels invincible at this time, and that explains his preoccupation with Israel.
Trade between Turkey and Israel has, over the years, grown to significant levels for both countries. Israel’s exports to Turkey amount to $1.3 billion, while Turkey’s exports to Israel reached $1.8 billion in goods and services. For Erdogan, however, his personal animus towards Israel overrides the interests of Turkey’s business community. Erdogan expelled the Israeli ambassador in Ankara and reduced the level of diplomatic ties to Second Secretary. He has also ordered strip-searches of Israeli passengers in Turkey’s major airports. And, in a provocative move to further escalate tension in the relations with Israel, last week he announced that he will consider visiting Gaza.
For Israelis, Erdogan has become a vicious enemy, second only to Iran’s Ahmadinejad. Israelis do, however, cherish the relationship they had with the once friendly secular-Muslim Turkey and hope that cooler heads will somehow restrain Erdogan – ultimately serving the interests of both the Turkish and Israeli people.