In the wake of the leak of the United Nations report which largely exculpated Israel for the Mavi Marmara incident and confirmed the legality of the blockade against Hamas-controlled territory, the Turkish government has become increasingly bellicose. The Turkish press is reporting the Turkish Navy (largely supplied by the United States) will increase its presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. “A more aggressive strategy will be pursued. Israel will no longer be able to exercise its bullying practices freely,” one Turkish diplomat explained. Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States who once quipped about “the final solution,” joined the chorus, posting a fairly threatening tweet as well.
It’s no secret Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s political party was behind the ill-fated flotilla, but recent statements suggest the prime minister may now be considering escorting a new flotilla to block the Gaza blockade. The irony that Gazans have greater health and welfare than Turks is an irony that escapes Erdoğan. Turkish bluster is not limited to anti-Israel sentiment. Turkey’s ruling party recognizes that bluster translates into popularity among the fiercely nationalistic Turks. Discussing a dispute with Cyprus over oil drilling, Egemen Bağis, Turkey’s minister for European Union accession (who I last wrote about here), threatened to use the Turkish Navy against Greek Cypriots. “That’s what a navy is for,” he told a Turkish Islamist newspaper last Friday. No wonder Turkey has been so ham-handed in its drive for European Union membership.
The question for American policymakers now is how to balance Turkey’s appetite for weaponry against the increasing likelihood Turkey will use such weapons for offense rather than defense. When it comes to arms sales to Arab countries, the United States guarantees how to balance their legitimate defense needs (against Iran, for example), with Israel’s need to maintain a qualitative military edge. While Turkey is a member of NATO, not every NATO member is entitled to an unlimited arsenal. It may be time for the Congress and the Pentagon to consider Turkey in the same category as Saudi Arabia or Egypt.