Turkey's worrisome approach to Iran, Israel
Ankara must be careful that its "zero problems" policy on its borders doesn't create new problems that alienate old friends.
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But worries abound that Turkey is now shifting too far away from Europe and to Muslim despots specifically. After the disputed Iranian election in June, Erdogan and the Turkish president were among the first foreign leaders to call with congratulations for Mr. Ahmadinejad.Skip to next paragraph
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Earlier this month Turkey disinvited Israel from a joint NATO exercise that it has participated in for years. Israel is a "persecutor," Erdogan explained. The next day it invited Syria to joint military exercises.
During the cold war, Turkey viewed Israel as a democratic ally in a hostile region. Indeed, a country such as Iran saw Turkey as a sell-out to the West. Syria supported terrorist separatists who wanted to carve out part of Turkey for their own.
But different dynamic forces are at work. Islamic intensity is growing in Turkey, along with an alarming increase in anti-Semitism. Israel's bombardment of Gaza nearly a year ago fanned these flames, and Erdogan has blown on them.
Israel no longer trusts Turkey as an honest broker, says Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Indeed, with Israel's concern having shifted to Iran, and with Erdogan's untempered remarks about Israel, why should he?
At the same time, Europe is pushing Turkey away. France and Germany strongly object to Turkish membership in the EU (a mistake that they should reconsider). And the great recession has also forced Turkey to look further afield for export markets.
Ankara counters that the worry that it's shifting away from the West is overblown. Turkey's actually in harmony with the new talk-to-your-enemies foreign policy of President Barack Obama, who in an April speech in Turkey praised its role as a "bridge" between East and West.
Turkish officials argue that they're simply strengthening the bridge support that's planted on the Asian side of the Bosporus Strait. They have a point with this and also the mend-fences argument.
What grates here is largely the tone – an unusually warm cozying up to wily, autocratic Iran and an emotional, populist condemning of Israel. Turkey, like everyone else in the Middle East neighborhood, doesn't want a nuclear-armed Iran. And it knows that there will be no Middle East peace and no Palestinian state without Israel's cooperation.
Turkey works against its own goal as regional peacemaker and power broker when it appears to favor one side over another.