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Turkey’s Troubling Trajectory

The Israeli Foreign Ministry is denying that Turkey blocked Israel from participating in the recent counterterrorism conference, organized by the United States, in Istanbul. The Foreign Ministry says Israel never planned to attend, which is itself somewhat strange. But the best reason for skepticism toward the denial is that this conference took place just weeks after Turkey blocked Israel’s attendance at this year’s NATO conference. If Turkey can blackball Israel in Chicago, surely it can do so in Istanbul.

And how else is Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spending his summer vacation? So far, with a crackdown on the press that has bestowed upon Turkey the distinct honor of having more journalists in prison than China or Iran. Istanbul is also getting the message out that jokes about Islam will earn you a spot in prison right next to those pesky journalists–who Erdoğan compared to terrorists, by the way–as it demonstrated by charging Turkish pianist and composer Fazil Say with insulting Islam in a series of tweets. “It is unusual for Twitter posts to be the subject of an indictment in Turkey,” the New York Times dryly notes.

If it’s unusual, it should perhaps be cause for some degree of alarm, no? While I’m sure Erdoğan will always be grateful for President Obama’s declaration that Erdoğan is one of the world leaders with whom the president is closest, it turns out Erdoğan’s dance card is pretty full at the moment. This month, Turkey joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a dialogue partner. And it’s hard to forget that the country has a Syrian civil war spilling over the border.

As Michael Rubin noted here last month, Turkey’s trend line is clear, and though it was once considered a democratic model for post-Arab Spring countries, it is now becoming a model for Islamist regional dominance. And as Benny Avni pointed out last week, Turkish anti-terrorism units carried out an investigation into dead hummingbirds they suspected of being Mossad-trained Israeli spy birds. (The birds were eventually exonerated.) So anti-Western paranoia is thriving in a region that contains far too much of it already.

Friendship and influence are not the same, especially when it comes to politics. If Obama has any influence with Erdoğan, now would be a good time to demonstrate it.