Turkey: An Ally No More
by Daniel Pipes
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Three events this past month reveal the extent of that change. The first came on October 11 with the news that the Turkish military – a long-time bastion of secularism and advocate of cooperation with Israel – abruptly asked Israeli forces not to participate in the annual "Anatolian Eagle" air force exercise.
Erdoğan cited "diplomatic sensitivities" for the cancelation and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu spoke of "sensitivity on Gaza, East Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa mosque." The Turks specifically rejected Israeli planes that may have attacked Hamas (an Islamist terrorist organization) during last winter's Gaza Strip operation. While Damascus applauded the disinvitation, it prompted the U.S. and Italian governments to withdraw their forces from Anatolian Eagle, which in turn meant canceling the international exercise.
As for the Israelis, this "sudden and unexpected" shift shook to the core their military alignment with Turkey, in place since 1996. Former air force chief Eytan Ben-Eliyahu, for example, called the cancelation "a seriously worrying development." Jerusalem immediately responded by reviewing Israel's practice of supplying Turkey with advanced weapons, such as the recent $140 million sale to the Turkish Air Force of targeting pods. The idea also arose to stop helping the Turks defeat the Armenian genocide resolutions that regularly appear before the U.S. Congress.
The second event took place two days later, on October 13, when Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem announced that Turkish and Syrian forces had just "carried out maneuvers near Ankara." Moallem rightly called this an important development "because it refutes reports of poor relations between the military and political institutions in Turkey over strategic relations with Syria." Translation: Turkey's armed forces lost out to its politicians.
Thirdly, ten Turkish ministers, led by Davutoğlu, joined their Syrian counterparts on October 13 for talks under the auspices of the just-established "Turkey-Syria High Level Strategic Cooperation Council." The ministers announced having signed almost 40 agreements to be implemented within 10 days; that "a more comprehensive, a bigger" joint land military exercise would be held than the first one in April; and that the two countries' leaders would sign a strategic agreement in November.
Bilateral relations have indeed been dramatically reversed from a decade earlier, when Ankara came perilously close to war with Syria. But improved ties with Damascus are only one part of a much larger effort by Ankara to enhance relations with regional and Muslim states, a strategy enunciated by Davutoğlu in his influential 2000 book, Stratejik derinlik: Türkiye'nin uluslararası konumu ("Strategic Depth: Turkey's International Position").
In brief, Davutoğlu envisions reduced conflict with neighbors and Turkey emerging as a regional power, a sort-of modernized Ottoman Empire. Implicit in this strategy is a distancing of Turkey from the West in general and Israel in particular. Although not presented in Islamist terms, "strategic depth" closely fits the AK party's Islamist world view.
As Barry Rubin notes, "the Turkish government is closer politically to Iran and Syria than to the United States and Israel." Caroline Glick, a Jerusalem Post columnist, goes further: Ankara already "left the Western alliance and became a full member of the Iranian axis." But official circles in the West seem nearly oblivious to this momentous change in Turkey's allegiance or its implications.
The cost of their error will soon become evident.
Oct. 28, 2009 update: In an article titled "Is Turkey Leaving the West?", Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy writes about the Anatolian Eagle affair that
July 25, 2012 update:The Turkish government today closed its borders with Syria except for refugees fleeing that country, quite completely reversing the policies celebrated less than three years earlier.
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