Few could dispute that the Turkish Government has consciously, with great forethought through 2009 and 2010, chosen to push its relationships with Israel, the US, and — essentially — the West as a whole to a breaking point. At the very least, Ankara was seeking to assert a watershed in which a new Turkish regional dominance and a new Turkish strategic agenda would have to be accepted by the West.
Many in Ankara must have been surprised that Washington, London, Jerusalem, and Brussels had merely accepted Turkey’s decisive move away from the West — which had been building for several years — without real question or comprehension. The consistent refusal of the West to accept that Turkey had abandoned its European aspirations, and essentially abandoned its partnership in and with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), emboldened the Islamist political leadership of Prime Minister Reçep Tayyip Erdogan to keep pushing to gain as much as possible before the West awoke.
The key was that the West listened to what Mr Erdogan and his colleagues said, but paid no attention at all to what they did.
The Turkish Government sponsorship of the maritime equivalent of a “color revolution” in the form of a so-called “aid convoy” to the Gaza enclave of the Palestinian Authority in late May 2010 brought the issue to a head. But the international community, and particularly the Israeli Government, should have long been conscious of the realities.
This writer has consistently pointed out four major aspects which have defined the Turkish situation in recent years:
1. No to the West: The elected civilian Government of the Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (Justice and Development Party: AKP), and the Turkish General Staff have never consciously believed that Turkey would, or should, become a member of the European Union (EU), assuming that Turkey would have to meet the EU’s entry and functioning conditionalities;
2. Yes, Reluctantly, to Russia: Turkey’s trade and strategic interests necessitated, increasingly during the past decade, that it had to accommodate Russian interests and dominance, despite mutual dislike between Russia and Turkey. This meant, absolutely and unequivocally, placing an alliance with Russia ahead of any alliance with the West, although talking for as long as possible in ways which would keep the West calm;
3. The Polite Civil War: The AKP Government and the Turkish General Staff (Genelkurmay Baskanlari: GB) are engaged in a bitter battle for dominance, and part of the process of the AKP has been to minimize the essentially military based alliance with Israel. Opposing Israel effectively strengthens the AKP’s hand in opposing the GB; and
4. The Quiet Support for Jihad: The Turkish Government has increasingly, over the past two decades, taken an active rôle in facilitating and supporting jihadist groups based out of the former Ottoman Empire territories of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo (and elsewhere in Serbia, as well as Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and the like). This has not only meant working with Iranian and Saudi elements in financing, and providing logistical support to, terrorist groups aimed at the West, but more importantly — from Ankara’s viewpoint — facilitating the movement and support of jihadist terrorists out of the Balkans (groups such as Kvadrat, which Defense & Foreign Affairs was first to identify) via safe- havens in Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus, to fight the Russians in Chechnya and elsewhere in the Caucasus. This could not have occurred without official Turkish Government involvement, and included the group which organized — again with Turkish Government participation — the “Gaza flotilla” which appeared in late May 2010.
Clearly, these four points are the stark headlines of the complex internal situation in Turkey, and the issues of Turkish consciousness which are driving the revival of the imagined glories of pan-Turkism and Islamic identity which Mustafa Kemal Atatürk — the “Father of the Turks — had urged, before his death in 1938, be forgotten in favor of building a modern, Western state on the ashes of the Ottoman base.
But the realities are there: Turkey — but emphatically the AKP Government — has abandoned its pretensions of being part of the West; Russia is the driver of the region, even though Turkey hopes to be able to outgrow that forced relationship; and there is a quiet “civil war” underway between the AKP and the GB.
Ufuk Ulutas, authored a January 2010 Policy Brief ,“Turkey-Israel: A Fluctuating Alliance”, for SETA, the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research, in Ankara, noting:
“[The] Military aspect of the Turkish-Israeli relations has usually been superior to the civilian aspect, although the volume of military trade constituted only a quarter of the overall trade between the two countries. This is partly due to both countries’ dire needs for military cooperation after the end of the Cold War. Israel provided a much-needed source of technologically advanced military equipment to Turkey, which the latter could not get from other Western sources then.
Turkey, on the other hand, offered geostrategic depth to Israel, which has had narrow territorial dimensions. It is not a coincidence, therefore, that the zenith years of the Turkish-Israel relations (the late 1990s) are characterized by heavy military involvement in Turkish politics, which reached its peak with the so-called soft coup of February 28, 1997; the bilateral relations were unusually intensified at the hands of the military officials. ... Gen. Çevik Bir, who was one of the main architects of the Turkish-Israeli ‘strategic alliance’, was also one of the leaders of the soft coup in 1997.”
This highlights one of the reasons why the AKP has been anxious to break the Turkey-Israel military nexus. There is much more to it than that, however, and even though the GB has been the nominal “keeper of the flame” for Atatürk, it also cannot resist the “logical” desire to re-assert some aspects of pan-Turkism, including the recovery of influence over parts of the Levant lost to the Ottomans in World War I.
Gaza, which had been for centuries under the Ottomans, was a part of this onetime Ottoman expanse in the Levant, and which, in 2010 under the control of HAMAS, is more interested in being a regional jihadist entity than in running a country. There are those in Turkey who do, indeed, see Gaza as another possible re-colonization of ancient Ottoman lands, just as they view the occupation of northern Cyprus as reclaiming ancient heritage.
Now, finally, the Turkish Government has admitted that it supports and has worked closely with the terrorist support organization, Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), which sponsored the Gaza flotilla. IHH has a long history of involvement with the jihadist movement, including those linked to al-Qaida, in the Balkans. This means that Ankara has admitted, finally, that it has been supporting the international jihadist movement against the West, and Russia.
Still, there is always one party at a divorce which observes: “So, you’ve hated me for years.”
Analysis by Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs
(c) 2010 International Strategic Studies Association, www.StrategicStudies.org