By Barry Rubin
The “Godfather” film coined a famous phrase: To make someone an offer they can’t refuse. But in diplomacy there’s the opposite phenomen: To send someone an ultimatum you know they can’t accept. An example of the latter is recent Turkish government diplomacy toward (or should I say, against?) Israel.
Its ultimatum demanded Israel apologize for Turkish citizens killed in the Mavi Marmara confrontation, pay compensation, and end all sanctions against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. This is in spite of the fact that those killed were radical Islamist jihadis who openly spoke beforehand of happily dying if they could kill Israeli soldiers and about massacring all Jews. As for the sanctions, they are against a terrorist group openly declaring its goal of genocide against both Israel and Jews in general and which has repeatedly attacked Israel.
Since Israel refused to surrender to this ultimatum, the Turkish (Islamist) government has expelled Israel’s ambassador just as the new, Palmer report on the Gaza Flotilla incident is released. But while the report claims Israel used excessive force–what is the proper amount of force to use on jihadis with weapons who advocate genocide against you?–it also concluded that the blockade is completely legal and that the flotilla activists acted recklessly. In other words, the Turkish regime demands Israel apologize and pay compensation for those who committed an illegal act in order to harm it.
During the negotiations, some high-ranking Israeli officials wanted to apologize; others didn’t. But it became clear that the Turkish regime kept increasing its demands to ensure there would be no deal. It wanted a pretext for bashing Israel and reducing relations. Israeli tourism to Turkey has already plummeted but is still valuable; bilateral trade had actually increased.
This cooling of relations is no surprise to Israeli policymakers and does not spring from either the war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip (2008-2009) or the Gaza Flotilla. (Similarly, when an Islamist regime took power in Iran no specific problem was needed to turn that country from a friend to an enemy of Israel and there was nothing Israel could do to prevent that turnaround.)
Before either event happened, Israeli officials knew that the period of close cooperation with Turkey was ending because the Turkish government was an Islamist regime hostile to Israel and to Jews generally. Now we have a Wikileaks document in which the then Israeli ambassador tells an American diplomat that the government leaders passionately loathe Israel.
It seems to be a secret mainly to the White House and most of the Western mass media that Turkey is being turned into a police state, that the regime is taking over institution after institution, and has now broken the armed forces–the last barrier to its long-term hegemony and the fundamental transformation of the country from secular republic to semi-Islamist semi-dictatorship (albeit a dictatorship capable of winning more votes than any other party).
When histories of Turkey are written in future, August 2011 will be the date when the secular republic of Ataturk came to an end. On August 30, marking Turkish victory in its independence war and Army Day, military officers were not permitted to hold receptions. Respected officers are daily sent to prison on flimsy charges.
For the first time ever, the president—Abdullah Gul, a doctrinaire Islamist, will receive greatings on Victory Day instead of the military chief of staff.
The Islamist newspaper Today’s Zaman says:
“The Turkish Army needs to be radically reformed. The past influence of the army over politics has postponed the introduction of such reforms….This Aug. 30 will be different from others in the past — the celebrations will not be as lively; however, Eid al-Fitr will be the same as always.”
Islamic observance has triumphed over secularism—reflected in the editorial’s headline, “Victory.” Islam is eternal, that’s the message, while the secularist Turkish republic was just a transient experiment.
The army will now be made into the Islamist regime’s tool. In the shorter term, careerists and opportunists will be promoted to do the regime’s bidding; in the longer term, Islamist officers will be pushed up the ranks as fast as possible. The same pattern is already being applied to the civil service, the Foreign Ministry, and other institutions.
One columnist refers mockingly to “secularist paranoia.” After all, she says, there’s nothing to fear. And didn’t the old Republican regime enforce conformity also? Yes, it did. But it also openly made clear its views and goals, while the Islamist rulers conceal their views and goals. And many are still willing—and are rewarded—for pretending that everything is just fine.
We still hear about how the Turkish model would be a great thing for the Arab world to imitate: an anti-Western foreign policy; growing repression; the state’s domination of media and courts; with those who dissent arrested on charges of terrorism or murder or treason. Sounds terrific!
And so the Turkish Republic established in the 1920s comes to an end with assurances that nothing is really changing. After all, many of those who disagree are in prison so they aren’t able to voice their sorrow, anger, horror, and fear for Turkey’s future.
The demonization of Israel–and also of the United States, though few Americans are noticing this–serves the same purpose in Turkey as it does elsewhere: to incite the masses into supporting a radical regime. The Turkish-Israel alliance has been over for three or four years, now the period of open, systematic, long-term Turkish government hostility begins.
Finally, though, I should add what many Turkish friends–who themselves are miserable and angry about what’s happening in their country (not to mention their bitterness at the continued international praise of the regime) said to me. Just because the captain and crew are bad doesn’t mean the passengers are, too.
As in Iran, Lebanon, Syria, and increasingly in Egypt, the real moderates and those Muslims who don’t want to live under an Islamist dictatorship watch in tears as their countries get worse and worse. They watch Western governments, media, and intellectuals praise or even work with their oppressors. They marvel at the good press and concessions given to people who they know despise the West and want to destroy it.
As I write this article–and I’ve been making this point for years–a timely Wikileaks document provides a good example. In May 2008, Saad Hariri, leader of the Lebanese democratic opposition and of the Sunni Muslims as well as the son of a man killed by Syria and Hizballah, spoke to an American diplomat. Remember, this was still the Bush Administration. Here’s what he said:
“The Lebanese are greatly disappointed and have no more faith in March 14 [the moderate uprising against Syria and Hizballah] and in the international community, Saad remarked. He quoted the May 9 White House statement on Lebanon, `We hope…’ `What is this?’ Saad declared.
“‘Hope’ does not deter Syria. If the U.S. decision is to do nothing, then OK–we know.’ Saad strongly urged that the U.S. `just fly a plane over Damascus as a threat.’ He also suggested the U.S. send the Sixth Fleet to Syria’s shore.”
More than three years later, the U.S. government was still cozying up to the Syrian dictatorship. The debate was not over whether to support the Lebanese moderates but about whether or not to engage with Hizballah.
And even today the U.S. government–despite the often good reporting from the U.S. embassy in Turkey–has barely a criticism of a Turkish regime that is aligned with its enemies and destroying Turkish freedom. As if that isn’t enough, the White House use Turkey as the mediator for the future of Syria and presents it as a role model for the Arabic-speaking world! No evidence–be it Turkey opposing increased sanctions on Iran or turning against Israel–has any effect on the White House’s thinking.
To mix a metaphor, the ship of U.S. Middle East interests is sinking and the Obama Administration is cheering the iceberg.
Historical note: The title of this article is a play on the famous New York Daily News headline: “Ford to New York: Drop Dead.”
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and Middle East editor and featured columnist at PajamasMedia http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/. 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 (Palgrave-Macmillan). GLORIA Center site is http://www.gloria-center.org.His articles published originally outside of PajamasMedia are at <http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com>