Israel-Turkey ties are nosediving. The promise of a thaw. with the diplomats of the two countries working hard to settle the standoff over the Gaza aid flotilla last year, seems to have died a sudden death despite some tentative indications by the visiting Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak after a meeting with US secretary of state Hillary Clinton in Washington last week that Tel Aviv might just about consider rendering a sort of apology to Ankara for the killing of the Turkish nationals by Israeli commandos. Obviously, Ankara won’t accept anything less than a full, unqualified apology and Israel never apologises on any issue, as it is always on the right.
Ankara may be no longer interested in a rapprochement with Tel Aviv. Prime Minister Recep Erdogan would know that if he stands tall today like a Colossus on the landscape of the Muslim Middle East, it is almost entirely due to his readiness to humiliate Israel. He sees no reason to surrender that huge geopolitical gain for the limited purpose of placating the US.
Now comes a blistering attack on Erdogan by Jerusalem Post. In an editorial, the influential daily has linked Erdogan’s recent assertion of civilian authority over the military as part of a calculated political agenda to ‘Islamise’ Turkey. The editorial equates the Turkish military with secularism, modernity and westernism and argues that that is the reason why Erdogan wants to humble the military leadership.
The big question is the kind of resonance this dangerous thesis would have on the minds of the Turkish officer corps. Israel has pockets of influence within the Turkish military, having been a close partner in defence cooperation for over a decade. Is the JP editorial a call to mutiny? Israel would be pleased if Erdogan is somehow replaced. The editorial comes at a very sensitive time when Erdogan faces a major challenge in restructuring the upper echelons of the Turkish military. He is not going to forget or forgive this sort of Israeli affront.
JP virtually calls on the western opinion to rally behind the Turkish generals. But that is unlikely to happen. At the end of the day, Erdogan’s move is in the direction of asserting civilian supremacy of an elected government, a principle that Israel also cherishes as a working democracy.