By Barry Rubin
I’ve written about how the Gaza flotilla issue and stirring up a hysterical hatred of Israel is playing a role in internal Turkish politics as the government tries to use this demagoguery to continue eroding Turkish democracy and to win the next election. And a little later I’m going to talk about a major new development in the flotilla story.
In addition, while Turks are united in anger and sorrow about the deaths of nine of their citizens, they do not necessarily agree with the current government’s extremist response which threatens to lead to involving Turkey in violence and damaging its reputation abroad.
The leader of the main opposition, Ataturkist and social democratic party, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu stated that Prime Minister Erdoğan, “Almost declared war against Israel in his party’s meeting….Our party displays a more moderate and careful approach. Foreign policy can’t be carried out with heroism but with reason. The Turkish Foreign Ministry should publicly disclose correspondence made with Israel so that we may all learn whether Israel warned Turkey or not.”
Now you might ask yourself what is Kılıçdaroğlu hinting at here? And the answer is important and potentially explosive. There is a widespread story, which cannot yet be verified but seems to be more than a rumor, for why this tragedy might have happened. People ask: Why did the Israeli soldiers land on a ship where they should have expected to be received with a violent attack?
According to some people who are in a position to know, here’s the reason: Erdoğan assured Israel that the ship’s passengers were peaceful and there would be no violence. That’s why Israel approached taking and diverting the ship in the manner it did. Is this true? I don’t know but it is definitely a story to watch. And here–the important development I referred to above–is the most detailed account yet of the connection between the Turkish government and the IHH, a group with terrorist connections which organized the flotilla and initiated the violence. Don’t fail to check out this source, which I’ve found to be very reliable over the years.
It is understandable, especially given what they’ve been told by their government and media, that Turks are very upset about the deaths. Yet it is important to understand that there are different views in Turkey over how to handle this problem. The government wants a confrontation and has been moving into an alliance with Iran and Syria long before the latest events. The opposition wants to uphold Turkish honor but not to break with the West or turn this into a near-war situation with Israel.
Here’s an interesting example.
Erdoğan said that Israel’s peaceful seizure of five boats and its self-defense on the sixth (you can imagine, these aren’t his words) was against Judaism, a subject on which he purports to be an expert.
“Erdoğan knows the Torah; we thank him. What does its sixth commandment say? Do not kill! But the holy book also has an eighth commandment, which says ‘Do not steal.’ And the ninth commandment says ‘Do not lie.’”
Kılıçdaroğlu has built his career on fighting the current government’s corruption and presumably will make a major election theme.
Erdoğan responded by accusing the leader of the opposition of being an apologist for Israel, saying among other things,: “He is acting like Tel Aviv’s lawyer.” The attempt is to paint the opposition leader as a flunky of the hated state, another step in the regime’s effort to transform Turkish politics into something more closely resembling those of Egypt, Syria, or Iran.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (PalgraveMacmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; The West and the Middle East (four volumes); and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books.