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Turkey’s Turn

Samara Greenberg

Ankara is considering downgrading diplomatic relations with Israel as well as their economic and military cooperation unless Jerusalem makes amends for the deadly May 31 raid on the Gaza-bound, Turkish aid ship, a Turkish official said yesterday. According to the official, Turkey wants Israel to apologize for its actions, return the seized ships, agree to an international investigation, and offer compensation for the victims. In a further display of displeasure, Turkey has already canceled three joint military drills with Israel. Nevertheless, the latter has no intention of agreeing with Turkey’s demands. In an interview yesterday, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said, “Whoever has demands like these, doesn’t have good intentions.”

Turkish-Israeli ties have been on a downward trajectory since the dominant governing party, the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), was first elected into power in 2002. And relations deteriorated well before the AKP sharply criticized Israeli policies during Operation Cast Lead. The most recent sign of Turkey’s drift away from the West, however, came last week when Ankara voted against imposing UN sanctions on Iran. Earlier, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel after what Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called an Israeli “massacre” of nine Turkish citizens on a Gaza-bound flotilla. Turkey under the AKP also invited leaders of Hamas to Ankara for talks, proposed joint energy projects with Iran, and co-brokered an overtly weak nuclear fuel deal with Iran with the help of Brazil – the only other country on the UN Security Council to vote against the fourth round of sanctions.

But how surprising is the recent saber-rattling from Turkey? Ankara canceled a major combat air exercise with Israel and NATO in October 2009, and then announced imminent military exercises with Syria, a member of the U.S. list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism,” on the same day. In 2003, Turkey refused to let U.S. troops cross its soil to enter into Iraq. Indeed, since the AKP’s electoral victory in 2002, Turkey has made a clear and steady shift away from the West and toward those most opposed to NATO – namely, Iran and Syria and the terrorist groups they support. All of which points to a major problem for the West: Are Turkey’s actions and goals consistent with NATO’s goals? Judging by the words and deeds of the AKP party, the answer must clearly be no.