Erdogan faces US stick, clings to anti-Israel stance
As he took off for the G20 summit opening in Toronto Saturday, June 26, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan came under an exceptionally acerbic US rebuke for a NATO member. He was accused of alienating the US and the West and told he needed to demonstrate Ankara's commitment to their (NATO) partnership by Philip Gordon, top US diplomat on European affairs, in a clear rejection of the Turkish prime minister's assertion in parliament Tuesday June 15: "There's no shift in Turkey's axis. Turkey is not a city state, it's not a state on which agendas are imposed," he said.
Taking Turkey to task for opposing the new UN sanctions on Iran and its anti-Israel rhetoric over the pro-Palestinian flotilla incident, the US official pointed out: "There are people asking questions about it in a way that is new, and that in itself is a bad thing that makes it harder for the United States to support some of the things that Turkey would like to see us support."
The Turkish prime minister is also in hot water at home, according to our military sources. Before he flew to Canada, his generals, led by chief of staff Gen. Ilker Basbug, demanded that he publicly disavow his insinuations that Israel had a hand in the new Kurdish rebel offensive against the Turkish military. His campaign against Israel, they charged, had caused him to neglect the front against the Kurdish PKK rebels, as a result of which Turkish military deaths were rising. Since June 19, 18 soldiers and several civilians had died in eastern Turkey and Istanbul and 50 in the last two months.
Erdogan promised to consider issuing this disavowal but had not done so before his departure even though high-placed sources in Washington say it would have improved his prospects of seeing the US president and helped ease the frictions between Ankara and Jerusalem. Instead, he was treated to a cold shower from a high-placed US official over Ankara's turn towards Tehran and its allies and campaign against Israel, instead of the certain prospect of a meeting with US President Barack Obama in Toronto.
Following his tour of the Kurdish-Iraqi front lines Sunday, June 20, the General Staff announced on Friday, June 25, that it will "professionalize the operational military forces serving at the borders in parallel with the process of professionalizing six commando brigades to counter terrorism."
During that tour, Turkish military leaders warned their prime minister that by snidely accusing Israel – "We all know who is behind PKK attacks" – he is helping the rebel Kurdish Workers Party's (PKK) cause and encouraging them to redouble their attacks on Turkish troops from their havens in the Qandil Mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan
They stressed that no intelligence data bore out this accusation and, by dragging Israel into the conflict, Erdogan encouraged the Iraqi Kurdistan president Masoud Barzani to strengthen his military and intelligence ties with Israel and the PKK at the expense of relations with Turkey, when his main objective should be to persuade Barzani to stop giving them sanctuary.
Pressed again, the Turkish prime minister promised to clear the air. His aides then promised a retraction to ward of pressure from another quarter, Washington, over his deepening ties with Tehran, Syria and Hizballah, in response to concerns voiced by the visiting US State Department's first special representative to the Muslim Communities, Farah Pandith.
The invitation Erdogan extended to Hizballah's Hassan Nasrallah to pay an official visit to Ankara (which debkafile first revealed on June 22) had alarmed the Obama administration. In the event, the visit was called off – though not by Ankara but by the Hizballah leader who feared that no security service could promise him a safe return home.
Beset by rising acrimony from Washington, charges of neglecting national security at home and the Turkish armed forces' inability to contend with the PKK's onslaught, Erdogan has temporarily shelved his threatened operations against Israel.
Since the pro-Palestinian flotilla led by the Turkish Mavi Marmara was intercepted and redirected to Israeli Ashdod on May 31 – leaving nine Turkish activists dead – no further attempts have been made to break Israel's Gaza blockade, whether by Turkey, Iran or Lebanon. Iran, reluctant to carry the can on its own, announced Friday its "aid ship" was delayed by "restrictions from the occupying Zionist regime," while the Turkish prime minister decided to heed a confidential appeal from Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri not to allow Lebanese craft to set out from Turkey, or ports from Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus, after Israel warned they would be treated as "enemy vessels."
The Turkish leader has set aside some of his more provocative actions for the time being, but debkafile's Ankara sources stress he has not given up on his dream to raise his country to the pinnacle of a new Muslim Middle East bloc – in the first instance, by throwing in Turkey's lot with the most radical Middle East forces dedicated to Israel's destruction. Erdogan, Iran and other pro-Palestinian elements are expected to redeploy for another go at the Gaza blockade.