Israel, like the United States, is very reluctant to acknowledge Turkey's loss as a pro-Western ally.
In Jerusalem, government and military policy-makers say Israel should turn the other cheek to the torrent of abuse prime minister RecepTayyep Erdogan dumps on the Jewish state. They insisted it was not real even when he visited Tehran Tuesday Oct. 27 and collected compliments on his anti-Israel invective from Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.
Still, sources in Binyamin Netanyahu's office hinted signals were coming in from Ankara that relations would soon turn around and improve, but DEBKA-Net-Weekly Middle East sources stress they are whistling in the dark: Erdogan turned his back on Israel eleven months ago after the prime minister at the time Ehud Olmert launched Cast Lead operation in Gaza.
And six years ago, Ankara spurned president George W. Bush's request to allow US forces to cross through Turkey for a second front against Saddam Hussein. Turkey has never relented since, notwithstanding the best efforts of Bush and the Barack Obama administrations to bring its leaders back into the fold.
Even after Erdogan went on Turkish TV Monday, Oct. 28, with the mendacious change that Israel considered using a nuclear bomb against Hamas during the Gaza War, Jerusalem stuck to the line that Erdogan is a hothead and influential circles in the Turkish administration will continue to hark back to the old strong strategic and military cooperation.
Minarets on every corner
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Middle East analysts call this an illusion. The Turkish prime minister is an astute politician who is now reaping the harvest of years of hard effort to change Turkish society. His Islamic AKP party has persuaded popular opinion to start embracing its ideal of a politically-united pan-Muslim world. Between 2002 and 2007, the number of Turks identifying themselves as Muslim increased by one-tenth according to an independent poll, and half of those surveyed called themselves “Islamist.”
The changes Turkey is undergoing are not haphazard or transient. Neither are they the result of an Israeli action or omission, as some opposition spokesmen contend. Jerusalem will have to accept that nothing it can do will bring its Muslim government to trade away its faith and world-view now or in the foreseeable future. Its tendency too take the Muslim in any controversy is a default reflex. Turkey has jumped with both feet into the swift current of religious extremism and geopolitical and cultural Islamic radicalism sweeping the Muslim world and the Middle East in particular. Obama's June 4 speech of reconciliation with the Muslim world was applauded with a politeness that masked contempt; it changed nothing in US-Muslim relations.
According to our sources in Ankara, Turkey's switch to Islamic radicalism is all the more dramatic because it is reversing the Westernizing secular revolution by which Mustafa Kemal Ataturk brought Turkey into the modern era after World War I.
For the first time in 70 years, Ataturk the Great is challenged by a Turkish government. The Erdogan regime has cleared its path by slowly easing the military, guardian of his secular legacy under Turkey's constitution, out of the interplay of national politics.
In this, the ruling Islamic party was aided substantially by two processes:
1. The Muslim-oriented government was brought to power in a democratic election.
2. The European Union demanded that Erdogan prove his country was worthy of admission to this Christian-dominated bloc by neutralizing the military role in national politics. The demand proved counter-productive to the Turkish democracy by disarming serious opposition to the government, which could only have come from secular groups and the generals.
Moscow holds the edge over Washington – for now
The result is a more democratic yet more radical Turkey, which is closer to Tehran than the moderate, pro-Western Cairo and Riyadh. Its pro-Muslim bent is no flash in the pan; over the last decade, new mosque minarets have sprouted in every corner of the country and Turkish women increasingly embrace traditional rather than Western dress. The process still going forward is too deep-seated to disappear any time soon.
By its very nature, a country increasingly embracing Islam will support Muslim and Arab countries and groups against Israel – especially when its generals, who had a long, close friendship with Israel's military chiefs, are removed from policy-making.
The ideology dominating the ruling party in Ankara is no different from that of the Islamic regime in Tehran, or the Hizballah and Hamas organizations – minus only the pro-terror jihadist doctrine shared by those extremists.
This trend is not susceptible to influence from Washington or Jerusalem or attempts to play it down. The Erdogan government has accordingly turned to Moscow, whose foreign policy hinges on Russia's greater acceptance of the Muslim world than Washington. By beckoning to Muslim leaders, the Russians hope to push Washington out of its centers of influence in their capitals, especially in the Middle East, and force the Americans to interact with Muslim elements through Moscow's good offices.
Hence also Russia's persistent cageyness over sanctions against Iran – or even too much pressure from the West on its nuclear weapon designs.
Islamizing Turkey is a work in progress which could get out of hand
Wednesday, Oct. 28, the Kremlin's top foreign policy aide Sergei Prikhodko said: “Sanctions in relation to Iran are hardly possible in the near future.”
Another senior Russian official Sergei Ryabkov of the foreign ministry urged the exercise of patience with the Islamic Republic: “We should not give the impression that everything has stayed as it was. On the contrary, we need to give the Iranians positive stimuli.”
The Turkish government will ride the Russian horse as long as it can. But Turkey's tendency toward Islamization will lead it to a parting of the ways with Russia too as it did with America in 2003 and Israel in 2009.
Geopolitically, Turkey is still one of the most important countries in the Middle East; its long border with Iran makes it an extremely valuable strategic asset for the US and to Israel. The three countries still share interests, such as combating radical Muslim terrorism, which has struck all three and will do so again, as well as common economic interests.
However, the US and Israel will have to be on guard when undertaking cooperative ventures with Turkey, which is still a member of NATO: They must keep in mind that their strategic partnership with Ankara is over.
This message has begun to percolate in Washington.
Tuesday, October 27, immediately after Erdogan landed in Tehran, the White House quickly announced that his visit to Washington on Oct. 29 was off, postponed for several months. In this way, the Obama administration stopped in his tracks the Turkish prime minister who planned to fly in straight from Tehran in the pose of lord chief mediator between the two governments.
Positioning Turkey at the heart of the Muslim consensus is a project still in progress with unforeseen results at the end of the road. For instance, Ankara is pragmatic today but may one day wake up and decide to reinstate the Muslim Caliphate as the center of Islam. For now, Moscow still has time to milk its warm ties with Ankara. For Washington and Jerusalem, time has run out.