By İsmail Duman, World Bulletin
“ ‘We are confronting a human tragedy, and I find it to difficult to understand what is going on there, as there would be no justification whatsoever for a collective punishment of two million people under the guise of stopping rocket attacks. Our friends in Israel should understand that by their siege and indiscriminate punishment of all the people they serve the cause of the marginal-extremist elements.’
‘Israel caused through its excessive use of force a humanitarian tragedy… The tears of children and helpless women and mothers will not be forfeited, the oppressors will drown in these tears.’ ” (Turkish Prime Minister- Recep Tayyip Erdogan)
As you know, in these days, we are remembering the Israeli onslaught on Gaza from December 2008 to January 2009. Unfortunately, we witnessed this massacre in Gaza and every virtuous person has felt pains of the consequences of this barbaric aggression in his heart. As you can remember, “the initial raids on Gaza led to the death of not less than 200 Palestinians, whose numbers increased to several hundreds in the subsequent few days because of aerial bombardment.”
And, today, by this means, we want to look at the Turkish viewpoint about Palestinian issue. As Mohsen M. Saleh says in his ‘The Palestinian Strategic Report’, “Turkey angrily reacted to this aggression, both on official and popular levels. The infuriated premier saw in this aggression ‘lack of respect to Turkey’ and in the whole military operation against Gaza a blow to international peace. He furiously added, ‘The killing of helpless innocents, women and children, the destruction of houses and the use of extensive power are all totally unacceptable.’ “
This is an undeniable fact that, today; there is a very different Turkey in the world political scene in terms of its foreign policy rationale. Ankara’s attitude toward Iran and the crisis with Israel following the Mavi Marmara incident have especially pulled Turkey into the center of the Middle East. So, today many Westerners have been asking whether Turkey has been redefining the main perimeters of its foreign policy. Actually, we tried to focus on this issue in the previous analyses. However, in this analysis, I plan to look at the relationship between the viewpoints of Turkish leaders to the Palestinian issue and this new foreign policy rationale.
Erdogan Became a Hero in the Arab World
As Sungur Savran says, after a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in the aftermath of this war in late January 2009, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ferociously attacked the Israeli President Shimon Peres in an incident that captivated Arab audiences and made him a hero in the eyes of Arab masses.
The words of Turkish Prime Minister became an answer the demands of Arab masses who want their leaders to be in opposition to Israel both by their speeches and practices. They found their feelings in the speech of Erdogan:
“Despots, gangsters even pirates have specific sensitiveness, follow some specific morals. Those who do not follow any morality or ethics, those who do not act with any sensitivity, to call them such names would even be a compliment to them ... This brazen, irresponsible, reckless government that recognizes no law and tramples on any kind of humanitarian virtue, this attack of the Israeli government by all means ... must be punished.”
“God will sooner or later punish those who transgress the rights of innocents."
According to Rannie Amiri, in this way, “Erdogan was seen as the only regional leader who had taken demonstrable action and directly challenged the three-year-old siege.”
“Meanwhile, Turkish flags and the posters of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are prominent in demonstrations around the world.” says Murat Daglı. “Erdoğan's profile and popularity was already high in the Arab world due to his televised confrontation with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in 2009 over Israel's attack on Gaza earlier that year.”
Actually, after Erdogan accused Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, of "knowing very well how to kill.", as Bulent Keles, from Today’s Zaman, says, “the myth that Israel is untouchable was destroyed by Erdogan, and because of that Israel nurses a hatred for Turkey.” This was a very important attempt for Palestinians. So, according to Jeremy Salt, “for the Palestinians, Turkey, its people and its outspoken Prime Minister have emerged as strong champions of their cause on the world stage at a time when the rest of the 'international community' seems to be shutting its eyes.”
This is a reality that Erdogan’s popularity began to exceed Hassan Nasrallah’s popularity in the Arab world. But, here, I prefer to think very carefully. Are these attempts realistic or emotional/romantic? The answer of this question will give us the real picture. We know that in terms of Turkey, although there are many speeches about Palestine, there is no any real/practical attempt to prevent Israel from doing these massacres. How can we explain this? Thus, I want to question these emotional pictures. I wonder the reality of Aijaz Zaka Syed’s words: “If only more Muslim leaders could think and act like Erdogan and confront big bullies of our world, their people wouldn’t be in the mess that they are in today. “
The Main Parameters of New Turkish Foreign Policy
In my opinion, if we want to understand Erdogan’s words clearly, firstly, we should understand the parameters of Turkish foreign policy.
As Seyfeddin Kara mentions in his article, Davutoglu explains Turkey’s new foreign policy as follows:
- A visionary approach as opposed to a crisis-oriented approach: Turkey wants to liberate itself from a defensive stance and positively get involved in issues taking place in its proximity, i.e., mediation efforts between Syria and Israel, involvement in the Palestinian issue, Iranian nuclear issue, and reconciliation between Iraq’s political groups.
- Basing Turkey’s foreign policy on a “consistent and systematic” framework. Approaches to a certain region should not be incongruous with Turkey’s interests in other regions. There will be concurrence in implementing policies in different regions.
- Adoption of a new discourse of diplomatic style (soft power approach) that prioritizes Turkey’s “civil-economic” power.
On the other hand, as you can remember, we discussed “new Turkish Foreign Policy” in these pages previously. We said so:
“The AKP government believes that it is now a realpolitik necessity on the part of Turkey to help set into motion a particular regional order. In this way, it thinks that both the structural problems in the surrounding regions cease to exist and Turkey’s transformation process at home goes peacefully: ‘Turkey’s growing engagement in the Middle East can also be attributed to the emerging reality that Turkey’s national security interests has been impacted the most by the developments in this particular region. The change of regime in Iraq and the rise of Iran’s regional influence appear to be the key developments affecting Turkey’s national security the most profoundly. Turkey does no longer have the luxury of indexing its policies to the wishes of her Western partners and turning a blind eye to regional developments because what happen in the Middle East do now closely impact Turkey’s internal developments and core national interests.’ “
So, we should know that Turkey began to take its neighbors and its public opinion into account. The world is not like past and if Turkey want to become a play maker, it should take a careful steps. So, as Arzu Ekinci focuses on, ‘win-win’ game is an important element in order to explain Turkey’s foreign policy. According to this game, play maker is Turkey and through this game all the countries in the Middle East will win what they want. Thus, peace with its neighbor is very important for Turkey.
Moreover, although Turkey knows very well that it is not possible to take radical steps with its neighbors like Iran and Syria despite US, through its populist steps, it tries to convince its voters so: “We are besides Muslim countries”.
In this way, we can say that Palestinian issue is crucial for Turkey if it wants to be accepted as a play maker in the region. Otherwise, neither Turkey nor Erdogan can be a hero for public opinion in Turkey and for the Arab World.
Is it an Islamic reflex?
While Cemal Ahmedoglu, in his writing entitled “Turkey begins to assert its Islamic identity”, talks about far reaching implications of the shift in the Turkish approach towards Israel for the Muslim world, Sungur Savran criticizes this viewpoint and says so: “Turkey has emerged as the major protagonist among the forces that support the Palestinian cause. This is extremely ironic given that the country has been a loyal member of NATO for six decades and ‘Israel's most important friend in the Muslim world’ (New York Times, May 31, 2010) for as long as one can remember, markedly so in the post-Cold War period and even under the present government.”
Actually, AKP’s sympathy for Hamas rather than Palestinian Authority may show its Islamic reflexes. Or, its neo-Ottoman identity may seem as a opportunity for Muslim world. In parallel to this, Khalid Amayreh reminds us the desire of the Arab World: “In the meanwhile, we say to our Turkish brothers, welcome back. We have long missed the Ottomans.”
But, can we really read this picture so? I am not sure. Maybe we should ask the dynamics behind this discourse. What is behind this rise of protagonist discourse in Turkish authorities?
In addition to this, we know that public opinion is very important for the new Turkish foreign policy rationale. We know that several opinion polls revealed the negative image of Israel in the eyes of the Turkish populace. The outcome of an opinion poll conducted by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), published on 1/4/2008, revealed that 78% of the Turkish people do not like Israel, and only 11% do so.
If we really want to understand the real dynamics behind these policies, we should focus on a) Turkey’s relations with Israel, and b) how the AKP evaluate Hamas. Before deepening these issues, as a warning, giving an ear to Seyfeddin Kara can be very important:
“Muslims around the world cannot make sense of the cooperation between the two countries, continuing despite the political vendetta between Israeli leaders and Erdogan. The Ummah wants to believe that Turkey has departed from its pro-Israeli stance and returned to its Islamic roots, once again embracing the Islamic world and becoming the protector of Muslims as their ancestors the great Ottomans did.
As part of its ambitious “neo-Ottomanist” foreign policy concept Turkey is trying to develop independent policies in the region and pursue them with the aim to become the dominant regional power. The perimeters of the new independent policy are however, clearly dictated by protecting US interests. Taking advantage of the current lukewarm relations between the Obama administration and the present Israeli government, Erdogan finds it easier to criticize Israel than he might otherwise do.”
Is there any changing about the relations between Turkey and Israel?
We know that the structure of relations between Turkey and Israel changed in 2002 when AKP came to power in Turkey. As Seyfeddin Kara says, although there was no immediate change in relations, the first blow came in 2004. Erdogan was outraged at the Israeli assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and called it a “terrorist act”. He also described the Israeli policy in the Gaza Strip as “state-sponsored terrorism”.
But, despite all these reactions, there is no any real change in the nature of relations as Israeli politicians have always appreciated the importance of a strong Muslim ally in the region. “Similarly, Turks have considered Israel as a useful means to secure US support, a policy the AKP leaders have not abandoned; of course strong US influence keeps the relations intact.”
Unfortunately, we also see same picture after the Israeli onslaught on Gaza. Up to the present, “military cooperation between Turkey and Israel continued in various ways and manners: exchange of visits of military experts at the levels of ministers of Defense or commanders of the naval and air forces, joint air and naval military maneuvers in which the USA participated, and intelligence cooperation between the two countries on the Kurdish and other issues.”
In addition to this, “Turkey had also striven to purchase from Israel the Heron pilotless planes. Many rounds of negotiations were conducted to test their practical feasibility.”
Although, “Turkey recently cancelled one military contract with Israel and has sent out signals that it is ready to cancel others unless Israel complies with the terms of agreements signed long ago.”, there are many incidents that create confusion in the Ummah. Seyfeddin Kara summarizes these incidents for us very well:
“Last January, Israel’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Danny Ayalon publicly insulted Turkish ambassador Oguz Celikkol over a scene, aired in a Turkish TV show, Valley of the Wolves. Israeli humiliation of the ambassador offended Turkish pride and drew harsh criticism from Turkish politicians and the media. However, three days after the crisis, Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak received a warm welcome from Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davudoglu and both politicians acted as if nothing happened in their meeting.
In another development, on December 18, 2009, Turkish President Abdullah Gul and his Israeli counterpart, Shimon Peres, agreed to mend relations, to make them “positive and stable”. However, three days later, at a joint press conference with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Erdogan slammed Israel for violating Lebanon’s airspace and for its air strike in Gaza.“
Moreover, we can give OECD membership of Israel as an example. Although Turkey could reject its membership, it did not do so. All these events create confusion and after these examples Kara asks us important questions: “How is it possible that on the one hand Turkey voices strong criticism of Israel and on the other talks about “positive and stable” relations? What is the reason for this ambivalent relationship between the two countries?”
Nonetheless, the Turkish-Israeli relations are expected to be generally good in future because of the common security, economic and political interests between the two parties. Actually, this equation answers our question: Is the reaction of the AKP an Islamic reflex?
How does the AKP evaluate HAMAS?
“Since Hamas was elected in a landslide in January 2006 to rule the Palestinian Legislative Council (eventually becoming isolated in Gaza), the AKP has followed a policy that widely diverges from both that of the U.S. and the EU (and of the so-called Quartet that also includes Russia and the UN). This policy also diverges from that which would have been followed by the rabidly pro-Western and Islamophobic secular parties of Turkey.” says Sungur Savran. “The Western alliance classifies Hamas as a terrorist organization and rejects engagement with it so long as it refuses (a) to renounce violence against Israel, (b) to recognise the right of Zionist Israel to exist and (c) to abide by the Oslo accords.”
When we evaluate the AKP’s viewpoint in this issue, actually, we can see that there are parallels between the viewpoint of Western alliance and Turkey to some extend. But, Turkey, on the other hand, does not describe Hamas as a terrorist organization, but as a political party.
As Mohsen M. Saleh says, “The Turkish position versus the aggression on Gaza may be summarized in the following:
-Immediate cessation of fire by both Israel and Hamas
-Opening of all the gates to Gaza
-To send humanitarian aid into the Strip.”
In addition to this, as we know, “in a drive to secure an immediate cease fire, open the crossings and send humanitarian assistance to Gaza, Erdogan started an Arab tour to Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, where he also met Mahmud Abbas in Jordan and Khalid Mashal in Syria.”
“Turkey will never hesitate to be part of any solution or settlement to the crisis in Gaza and Palestine in general, particularly so as such a role will not be opposed by both the Palestinians and Israel.” says Mohsen Saleh. In other words, ‘Having a pioneering role in the efforts of reconciliation between the PA and Hamas and in a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians’ is very important for Turkey. But, in this process, the AKP is not ready to confront neither US nor Israel.
But on the other hand, according to Aijaz Zaka Syed, “these close ties haven’t deterred Turkey’s present leadership from confronting Israel on its persecution of Palestinians.” In my opinion, here, we come across problematic dilemma.
Although when it is asked, Erdogan says “the future of Turkey's relations with the Jewish state would very much depend on Israeli behavior, especially toward Palestinians.”, he also see himself as a mediator between Hamas and Israel and send moderate messages to both Israel and Hamas at the same time. This means that a dramatic change in Turkey’s approach to Israeli relations or the Palestinian issue cannot be expected. So, despite its role in the region, Turkey’s reactions and actions do not stem from its Islamic identity. Of course, its leaders want to help Palestinian Muslims; but, at the same time, they play "the game" according to its conditions.
Does AKP serve to U.S. Imperialism?
“Turkey is the foremost ally, with the obvious exception of Israel, of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East. It is also a candidate for accession to the European Union engaged in negotiations for the last five years, although relations have recently soured between the two sides due to the explicit reluctance of the Sarkozy and Merkel governments to carry the accession process to completion.” says Sungur Savran. “There is, then, the fact that the AKP government has no intention of breaking with the imperialist system, but is in fact offering its services to this system through the new hegemony it is attempting to establish over the Muslim and, more particularly, the Arab world. Only days after the Israeli assault on the flotilla, on June 8-9, foreign and assorted ministers of 22 Arab countries came together in Istanbul for parallel meetings of the Turkish-Arab Cooperation Forum and the Turkish-Arab Economic Forum, to be treated to sermons regarding the virtues of neoliberalism, privatization, integration with Western capitalism and flexibility in the labour market by none other than Erdogan and his ministers of foreign affairs and the economy.”
We should accept that when Turkey-AKP- plays a chess, it tries to control all the player and every person know that despite all these reaction, Israel needs to Turkey as a liberal Muslim country and Turkey also needs to Israel as a regional power. Thus, in my opinion, although there are very important steps in Palestinian issue which can be interpreted as Islamic actions, main foreign policy rationale of AKP government focuses on pragmatic steps in order to protect domestic and regional balances. As is known, politics is multi-dimensional equation and AKP tries to pass an examination with a minimum damage. This does not mean that their reactions are artificial. But, we should read this picture in the light of rules of international relations.
When we evaluate this issue from this viewpoint, as Savran emphasizes, “to present Erdogan as a saviour for the Palestinian masses is to disregard a series of contradictions that hold his government hostage to the status quo in the Middle East.“
But this process, again, raises the question of whether the AKP is ‘a model country’ for the Arab World and Middle East in the favor of American interests.
Is it possible?
As we said before, because US is very worried about Iranization of Middle East, they prefer to secular Turkey as a land of new caliph. If we talk about Palestine, these concerns are more and more. As you know, Iran helps to many Palestinian resistance groups and in this way, it has an effect on these groups and Palestinian issue. After Turkey’s reactions, this picture has changed a little.
“Turkey, especially under the rule of Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been taking, and continues, to take strident steps in expanding its influence eastward, effectively grooming itself for the auspicious title of the leading state in the Sunni Muslim world.” says Khalid Amayreh. And also we know that many Arabian countries disturb Iran because of its Shiite identity.
Here, reminding Akif Emre’s sentences, again, is very crucial. He warns us about this issue in his writing entitled ‘Iran-Turkey competition in Gaza’. “Rising Iranian prestige in the region in consequence of Hezbollah-Lebanon victory was preventing US’s strategic plans. Looking at the issue from this point, in terms of Arab regimes and US-Israel ally which want to break Iranian effect, there is no any obstacle in rising of Turkey’s prestige. Heroism of Sunni Turkey which has good relations with Israel and the US, tries to enter EU and is a member of NATO, was very limited compared to Iran which is out of the system and has a Shiite identity”.
We should not forget that If Turkey plays this role, it can be very problematic for the future of Muslim world.
Asked to Hamas advisor Ahmed Yousef, “Who does Hamas look to as a political model from other struggles in history?”, he answered: “I do believe that Hamas also looks at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey as a good model. We are not Taliban, we are Erdogan.”
When we look at the sentences of Hamas advisor, we can easily say that even Hamas sees Turkey under the leadership of the AKP as a regional power and model. Although, today, we come across Turkey’s verbal reactions rather than practical reactions, Palestinian Muslims seem very happy from this picture.
But, in my opinion, Conn Hallinan describes this process and these reactions very well and we should listen to him carefully: “Ankara’s falling out with Israel is attributed to the growth of Islam, but while Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party does have a streak of Islamicism, Turkey’s anger at Israel is over policy not religion.”
According to Asst. Prof. Dr. Tarik Oguz, there were always multi-dimensional and multi-directional policies ever since the early years of the 1960s and he exemplifies his argument with the actions of Bulent Ecevit, Turgut Ozal, and Ismail Cem. Although we cannot say that the foreign policy of the AKP is the same with that of the past governments, the AKP should also reject any ‘model role’ in the region.
Otherwise, the reactions of Erdogan and the other AKP leaders about Gaza and Palestine will become very artificial. We advise to the AKP Government that of course it should support Palestinian people; but, at the same time, it also should react to Israel practically, not only verbally/emotionally/
We hope that Turkey will act independently in the Middle East. Otherwise, we will betray Palestinian Muslims and their expectations. This should not be acceptable for Islamic-oriented AKP Government. Today, we are remembering second anniversary of the Israeli onslaught on Gaza and Palestinian people still wait helps of their Muslim brothers from all corners of the world. We should give an ear to this scream.
We hope that Turkey will act independently in the Middle East. Otherwise, we will betray Palestinian Muslims and their expectations. This should not be acceptable for Islamic-oriented AKP Government.
Today, we are remembering second anniversary of the Israeli onslaught on Gaza and Palestinian people still wait helps of their Muslim brothers from all corners of the world. We should give an ear to this scream.