The Flotilla campaign was a well-calculated stunt by Turkey's Islamist regime, aimed at political windfall at home and its desire to cut all ties with the ever-hated Jewish state. And it has gone perfect for them.
On the backdrop of the Gaza Flotilla misadventure to force Israel withdraw blockade on Gaza, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that "Israel stands to lose its closest ally in the Middle East if it does not change its mentality."
And calling for punishing Israel for "state terrorism" over its bungled operation on board the Flotilla ships that left 9 pro-Hamas Turkish activists dead, Turkey has already ordered reduction of "economic and defence ties with Israel", probably its first step toward gradual freezing of diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.
For Turkey, its diplomatic ties with Israel, established soon after Israel's founding in 1948, was never one of mutual friendship or cordiality, but of strategic necessity. The Kemalist secularists saw alliance with Israel as an antidote to theocratic Islamists at home and in the Arab world. In the 1990s, the relationship deepened further in an effort to undermine the common enemy, Syria, which was supporting the Kurdish separatists (PKK) against Ankara. Israel provided military hardware and intelligence to Turkey on PKK activities in Syria, when Damascus was hosting of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.
With Islamists themselves now in power, the Kurdish separatist movement on the decline and Syria turned an ally after the current Islamist government took power, Turkey's ties with Israel has turned meaningless, indeed a liability, for the current Islamist government.
Much has been said of the Islamist root of the AKP government in Turkey. Let us review here the AKP politicians' attitude toward Israel. The AKP Islamists' spiritual guru is Prof. Erbakan, who founded the National Salvation Party (NSP), as an Islamist front against Kemalist secularists. Top leaders of the current AKP government were groomed by Ebrakan. Both PM Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul served as mayoral, ministerial and parliamentary candidates in Erbakan's parties to hone their political careers. But realizing that the staunchly secularist army would not allow them to stay in power on a visibly Islamic card, they disguised themselves as secular-democrats and formed the soft-Islamic AKP party.
Let us take a look at Prof Erbakan's attitude toward the Jews and Israel. Erbakan is a fanatical anti-Semite with a pan-Islamic ambition of the former Ottoman days. During the last election, he compared Zionists and Jews with 'Bacteria' and 'Disease', and said:
"Do you know what the safety of Israel means? It means that they will rule the 28 countries from Morocco to Indonesia. Since all the Crusades were organized by the Zionists…”
He wrote virulently anti-Semitic commentaries in its media mouthpiece, Milli Gazette, in February & April 2005. Citing anti-Jewish Quranic verses (3:112, 2:61 etc.), he wrote:
“In fact, no amount of pages or lines would be sufficient to explain the Quranic chapters and our Lord Prophet's [Muhammad's] words that tell us of the betrayals of the Jews... The prophets sent to them, such as Zachariah and Isaiah, were murdered by the Jews...”
Most observers would argue that leaders of the AKP have moderated themselves and do not have the same anti-Semitic attitude like their mentor Prof. Erbakan anymore. But, let me emphasize from my experience of living a Muslim for nearly 40 years that anti-Jewish hatred, with which Muslims are groomed since childhood, never declines, but may only intensify, so long one remains a Muslim. This applies much more to Muslims, who make their career based on appeal to Islam.
Let us also try to understand PM Erdogan's Islamic mind. He has claimed himself to be “a servant of the Sharia" and “the Imam of Istanbul", and emphatically said: "The Mosques are our barracks, the Domes are helmets, the Minarets are Bayonets and the faithful are soldiers." He has mocked Kemalist secularists and expressed his desire to turn Turkey into an Islamic state and to inaugurate the parliament by reciting the Quran.
Unsuspecting observers must also recall what Erdogan once said of his party's current guise: “Democracy was a train, from which you could alight once you reached your destination.”
AKP has already reached its destination with firm support amongst an increasingly radicalized Muslim population; so it can now throw away its secular-democratic guise. And it has already started. Didn't the Saudi King recently ordain Erdogan with the "King Faisal International prize for service to Islam"?
As concern Turkey's diplomatic contact with Israel, it was meant to undermining the same Islamists currently in power. Given current government's intense hatred of Israel, Turkey's ties with the Jewish state would naturally be the most hated or unpleasant element, it has deal with. The AKP government cannot but do away with Turkey's diplomatic ties with Israel as soon as possible, and hit back at it if possible.
In fact, the current Islamist government has started both processes: gradually freezing the diplomatic ties with Israel as well as hitting back at it. Over the past few years, Turkey has become one of the fiercest critics of Israel in the Muslim world, fiercer than Saudi Arabia and Egypt. It would be accurate to say that Turkey falls on the Iran-Syria axis in the Muslim world, when it comes to Israel. Turkey's Islamist government is also gradually freezing military contact and joint military exercise with the Jewish state.
What Erdogan's government eagerly looking for is an excuse for complete break of diplomatic contacts with Israel. It is not easy for Islamists, as members of AKP are, to deal with Israel as a friend or ally, when they hold intense hatred for them deep in their heart.
Moreover, Turkey's continued contact with Israel is the greatest political liability for the AKP Islamists at home. They thrive on Islamic appeal amongst the populace, and intense hatred of Israel and Jews is a common feature of their support base. Only by trying to undermine or harm the Jewish state could they consolidate their appeal and support amongst the populace. But if they try to be a friendly ally for the Jewish state, that will be a political suicide for them; it will kill their support.
Since coming to power, the AKP government's action and attitude toward Israel clearly suggest that they are walking a tight-rope: Gradually walking away from Israel, which is not only helping them avoid the path of suicide, but also helping consolidate their political capital at home.
In the present case, Erdogan's government has acted as the Muslim world's most committed and vocal supporter of the Flotilla campaign, intended to undermine Israel; and after the bungled Israeli operation, it has also placed itself as the harshest critic of the Israeli action amongst Muslim governments.
All these would undoubtedly help solidify AKP's hold and support amongst the Turkish populace, throwing their secular rivals into political obscurity. So, when Erdogan said, "Turkey tried to preserve their relationship, but the Israeli government did not understand this, and committed a historical mistake," it's all a dishonest political stunt and excuse to make a complete break with Israel on the diplomatic front, which is not far away. Had Turkey valued its diplomatic ties with Israel, it could not be the provocative eager supporter, indeed the organizer, of the Flotilla campaign to undermine Israeli blockade on Gaza, which the Israelis say helps undermine Islamist militants' attack from the Hamas territory and evidently so.
(It should be understood here that IHH—an Islamic relief organization in Turkey and a staunch supporter of the current Islamist government—which organized the Flotilla campaign reportedly has ties to radical Islamic groups and have helped and financed travel of militant Muslim fighters from Turkey to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Chechnya and Uzbekistan etc. to fight Jihad. Given most Islamic charity organizations even in the West have been found to have ties to militant Islamist groups, this is hardly surprising. And for Bülent Yildirim, the main IHH organizer, the Gaza Flotilla was a Jihad operation, not a humanitarian one.)
Despite Erdogan's bluff that his government tried to preserve relationship with Israel, the evidence is all too clear that his government was eagerly looking for what transpired over the past week. It was part of Erdogan's government's calculated attempt to hit back at the Jewish state, which, for decades, has acted as an ally of the Kemalist secularists to undermine and suppress his ideological Islamists brethren in Turkey, including his own AKP party.
The whole Flotilla campaign was a well-calculated stunt, orchestrated by the Turkey's Islamist regime. And it has gone perfect for them, which would bring them great political windfall at home. While Israel is the major loser on the surface, Turkey's secularists are probably a bigger loser than Israel.