Kabadayi in Overkill
Since the mid-1990s, Turkish military and civilian leaders envisioned a new role for Turkey in the broader Middle East. They proposed that Turkey had a potential and, indeed, the strategic necessity to become a central regional power in its neighborhood. In this vision, the strategic relationship with Israel plays the functional role as both a bridge to Washington and the source of cutting edge military technology and know-how. The strategic alignment formed by Turkey and Israel in the heady days following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, found the strongest and enthusiastic proponents in Turkey among the Kemalist state bureaucracy. When Erdogan's AK party gained control of the Turkish parliament in 2002, the Kemalists warned about the creeping Islamization of Turkey. So, now eight years later, when the Turkish leadership is publicly praising Syria, Iran and Russia as its close strategic allies, the darkest fears of the secular pro-Western elite in that country were realized.
The bungled Israeli operation to intercept the Turkish boat with the Hamas supporters in the international waters off Gaza, only provided Turkey's current leadership with an excellent excuse for demonizing Israel and silencing Turkey's military that in the past years made strategic alliances with Israel. Erdogan is striking a shrewd blow against the generals in rabble-rousing anti-Israeli sentiment. Currently, at the behest of Erdogan's party, Turkey's judiciary is conducting a witch hunt against an ever-growing number of pro-secular journalists, intellectuals and ex-soldiers, who are accused of a highly nebulous "conspiracy" to overthrow the constitution. No doubt, some of them will soon be tarred with evidence of having worked too closely with Israel.
For balancing its foes, Israel needs Turkey. Firstly, Israel needs to avoid a position of regional isolation in the aftermath of the Gaza war. Turkey’s role as a moderator is also has great value for Israel. Israel needs to be seen as relevant to the processes in the Middle East, viewed through the Washington prism. In this sense, it needs to cooperate with the ‘moderate Islamist’ regime ruling Turkey.
However, here is the rub. Since the Erdogan’s outburst at the Davos Global Meeting in the beginning of February 2009. Erdogan received a triumphant welcome at home. Upon his return from Davos, Edogan was greeted as the Fatih or Savior of the “Turkish honor” by thousands of supporters at the Istanbul airport. It is futile to try to talk sense with the politician, who is seeking laurels of the new Gamal Abdel Nasser and who perfected an aggressive and acrimonious style of attacking his opponents and raised his “hoarse yell” into a method of political communication. This politician, known in Turkey, as Kabaday ("street tough" or '”hoodlum”)of Kazim Pasha ( the Istanbul's neighborhood where he grew up), has a knack for addressing the dispossessed Muslim masses in the language they readily understand, but he might further jeopardize Turkey's entry into the European Union. Using familiar slogans: “Israel - terrorist state,” “Israel is the main threat to peace in the Middle East” will play well on the Arab Street. However, how much support these diatribes will procure him in the European capitals and Washington, which are more concerned about the looming danger of nuclear Iran as their votes for recently approved Security Council sanctions indicate.
If Turkey abandons Israel, Israel needs re-energize its flagging relations with Egypt and the Gulf States, who are not particularly amused by Erdogan's Neo-Ottomanesque pretensions for the leadership of the Sunni Muslims. In the mist of the current diplomatic stand-off after the flotilla fiasco, the public image of Recep Erdogan as the protector of all Muslims has become a significant factor in the global affairs, but Israel should act quickly to neutralize internationally the Turkish government that champions the most radical causes in the Muslim world.