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Turkey Engenders Mid-East Strife

Richard Smith

Turkish authorities today refused an Israeli plane carrying IDF officers to fly through the nation’s airspace. The officers were en route to a Holocaust memorial tour in Poland. The move, which comes just weeks after the Gaza flotilla crisis, is the first example of a general ban by the Erdogan government against the Israeli military entering Turkish air territory.

Following the incident, the Turkish foreign ministry confirmed that an official policy of banning Israeli military aircraft from Turkish airspace has indeed come into action, but specified that such aircraft would be assessed on a case-by-case basis, depending on the type of flight and state of relations between Turkey and Israel at the time. The IDF has not released a statement in response.

According to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan, speaking at the G20 summit in Canada, the ban is in direct response to the flotilla crisis. In recent weeks Turkey has also canceled scheduled joint military exercises with Israel, withdrawn its ambassador from Tel Aviv, and now also threatens to reduce trade ties.

Such antagonistic behavior towards a previous ally is unsurprising given the contemporary state of domestic Turkish political affairs. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is considered the latest incarnation of Turkish Islamism which threatens Turkey’s tradition of constitutional secularism. Having arisen from the ashes of the banned Welfare party, of which Erdogan was a prominent member, the Justice and Development Party was itself nearly banned on the grounds that it had “become a focus of anti-secular activities.” However, The AKP escaped from the 2008 court hearing with a ‘serious warning’ and a severe penalty instead.

Turkey has always had a troubled relationship with Europe, seeing itself as the victim of Western double standards with regard to Cyprus and Armenia, as well as the casualty of historic diplomacy and military action that led to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. This, combined with Ankara’s frustration over the delay in obtaining European Union membership, has translated into growing support for Erdogan’s party. Erdogan thus looks East, where he believes Turkey can play a more prominent role in regional affairs whilst simultaneously safeguarding the interests of the Islamic world.

The weakening relationship between Turkey and Israel is not a result of the genuine diplomatic crisis, but an orchestrated projection of Turkey’s self-perceived power and solidarity with the Muslim nations. Indeed, the bond between the two outlasted many crises in the past; what is different now is the nature and intentions of Turkey’s governing party. The Turkey of the past has been removed from office and is disappearing. And the flotilla crisis was nothing but Erdogan’s convenient excuse to reach a boiling point that he has been waiting for all along.