After President Amadinejad of Iran and Iran’s theocratic Islamist state, the greatest threat to Israel is Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Turkey’s Islamist government. This is surprising because Turkey and Israel used to be close allies. The rift between the countries is directly linked to the ascendancy of Islamist rule in Turkey.
After World War I, Turkey lost all of its protectorates in North Africa and the Mideast and became a secular state under the leadership of Kemal Ataturk, who banned the fez hat for men and the headscarf for women. Ataturk realized that the religious fanatics – today’s Islamists – would seek to regain power, and he placed the responsibility of keeping Turkey secular in the hands of the Turkish army. On several occasions, the army exercised that responsibility and ended the rule of or prevented an Islamist party from governing Turkey.
Turkey, which lies primarily in Asia Minor, with its major city, Istanbul, straddling both Asia and Europe, wants to be a member of the European Union. The E.U. has made a number of demands on Turkey to be fulfilled before Turkey’s application for membership would be considered. One of those demands was that the army cease protecting the secularity of Turkey and allow governance by any popularly-elected government, even if it is Islamic or theocratically oriented.
The party of Prime Minister Erdogan, the Justice and Development Party, while known to be Islamic, sought to convey that it would be secular so as to avoid the army’s preventing it from taking power. Ultimately, the Justice and Development Party under Erdogan grew sufficiently powerful that the army leaders were put on trial by Erdogan and 300 army officers ultimately went to prison, with Erdogan appointing new army officers who were supportive of his government.
The result of Erdogan’s efforts and support by the E.U. of those efforts culminated in today’s Turkish Islamic government. Erdogan ended the heretofore close diplomatic, economic and military alliance between Turkey and Israel. Over the last several years, Erdogan has made clear his intention to have Turkey once again become the leader of the Islamic Mideast where states like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Tunisia, Iraq and Iran already have adopted Islamic law or have Islamist governments. Many of those countries were once part of the Turkish (Ottoman) caliphate which formally ended on March 3, 1924, and which some observers believe Turkey would like to reestablish. Those countries with a Shiite majority, e.g. Iraq and Iran, would never willingly join the caliphate, which would be Sunni dominated.
One of the ways Turkey has sought to reestablish its leadership in the Islamic world is to become the leading Muslim nation threatening Israel militarily. It was Erdogan who authorized the flotilla that sought to break the Gaza blockade that Israel imposed against the Gaza strip governed by Hamas which publicly calls for the removal of all Jews who entered the Palestine Mandate after 1917. The Turkish government has indicted four Israeli military personnel seeking to hold them responsible for the deaths of nine Turks aboard the flotilla that Israel prevented from entering Gaza. Fortunately, the four men are not in Turkey.
Erdogan has announced that he intends to visit Gaza. The New York Times of November 3, 2012 reported,
“A visit by the leader of Turkey, a huge power that is a member of NATO and a critical bridge between the West and the Islamic world, would make a much bigger diplomatic splash, paving the way for Egypt and other countries to expand direct, independent relationships with Hamas and further dividing the Palestinian leadership. Officials in the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority, the Hamas rival that governs in the West Bank, had warned that the Qatari mission would set a dangerous precedent. ‘We are against all these visits,’ President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority said in an interview that was recorded before Mr. Erdogan’s comments and was broadcast on Friday night by Channel 2 News in Israel. If they want to help Gaza, they should come through the authorities, through the legal authority.’”
All of this is a complicated matter for the United States because Turkey is a member of NATO. Turkey undoubtedly seeks to influence NATO countries such as England, Germany, France, Italy and others with which Israel has good, or relatively good, relations to recognize Hamas. The E.U. has declared Hamas to be a terrorist organization which they will not recognize, unless it gives up violence, recognizes the legitimacy of the state of Israel and accepts all agreements entered into by the Palestinian Authority with Israel to date, all of which Hamas has refused to do.
If the European Union and the United States had not urged Turkey to end the Turkish army’s role as defender of the secularity of the Turkish state, the world, and certainly Israel, would be a safer place today. This a tragic example of unintended consequences.