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We Misunderstand Turkey
By Micah Halpern

Saturday August 28, 2010


The attitude adopted by Turkey towards Israel should never have surprised the security, political or foreign policy communities. Pay attention and you know what to expect.

The Turks are fed up and they are reacting instinctively by lashing out. Many people lay the blame for this new attitude and behavior on the Islamic orientation of today's political leadership in Turkey. That it true, but it is only part of the answer. Many blame the steady increase of Islamic political parties leading right up to the ruling party in Turkey. Again, true, but only a partial answer.

Turkey has been misunderstood for decades. Because of the natural western bias of Israel and the United States, it was assumed that Turkey was moving towards the West. It was assumed that Turkey was a Western-oriented state.

That assumption is incorrect. Turkey is a split state - and only a very small part, the part the West has concentrated on, is European. The remainder of Turkey, the vast majority of Turkey, is a part of Asia and of the Middle East.

At one point Turkey did display a serious desire to move toward the West, and while that desire was embraced by the Western world, it was only a blip on the social conscience of Turkey. To understand the stance the Turks have now taken, one must view this split state in the context of the overwhelming anti-Western sentiment that has always permeated Turkey and has slowly peeked out and reared its head over the past few years.

Turkey refused to allow the United States and other Western allies to headquarter on their turf during the second Gulf War. That was the first sign. It should have become clear and apparent that Turkey was more concerned about their internal, local and regional tensions as they were about their international issues. Preventing the United States Air Force from flying out of Turkey did not hinder the war effort, but it did bolster Turkey's standing in the Muslim world.

In January of 2009, at World Economic Forum in Davos, the leader and mouthpiece of Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, lambasted Israel's President Shimon Peres about Operation Caste Lead. This, too, was a very clear foreshadowing of things to come.

Because Western leadership was either blind to these glaring messages or perhaps, too hopeful to call them on the carpet, Turkish leadership felt confident that they would be able to successfully walk the tightrope - open their markets, sell their goods and reap the benefits of the Western economic group that would catapult them into a growth market and even, into a major player in the region.

And then, Turkey's hopes were dashed. For years Turkey dreamed and waited to join the European Union. But here was no possible way Turkey would be admitted as a full member of the EU - Greece would never hear of it. It is in that vein that Prime Minister Netanyahu visits Greece, Turkey's arch enemy, to cultivate the Greeks now that the Turks have displayed their true leanings.

Turkey needed new friends and new markets. Iran and Syria were the ideal partners.

So at this point Turkish leadership is less likely to respond as quickly or jump as high when the US calls. Tensions with the West are high. While the military is still a very important stabilizing feature of Turkish national power, it is not the army that makes public statements. The US and Israel are despised on the streets of Turkey today. The flotilla incident further strengthened resentment towards the West. In Turkey, Israel is the metaphor for the West.

Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, understood the need to break away from the shackles of the Middle East. He knew that the tiny parcel of European land that bridges Europe and Asia in Turkey was a springboard into a new modern world. That is why Ataturk recreated the Turkish language and dropped Arabic lettering, recasting it with English letters.

Ataturk was a political prophet. He pounded Turkey into the modern world and kept the Muslim religious issues at bay. Everyone knew those tensions would always remain. The question was only how long they could be controlled and sublimated.

We have the answer. Today's leadership in Turkey uses anti-Western feelings as a fulcrum to motivate domestic politics and to add serious international swagger. Turkey has given up the charade, Turkey is no longer playing another game. In many ways they have switched sides.

4 June 2017 12:13 PM in Columns

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