Though most of the news out of Turkey in recent years has been dispiriting, the once-secular nation finally seems to be paying a price for its Islamist turn. As the New York Times reports today, Turkey is learning an age-old lesson about power politics in the Middle East: in alienating Israel in a bid to win the trust of the region’s Arab population, it has marginalized itself:
After prayers last Friday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stepped outside a mosque on the banks of the Bosphorous here and dismissed a suggestion that Turkey should talk directly with its onetime ally, Israel, to attempt to resolve the crisis unfolding in Gaza.
“We do not have any connections in terms of dialogue with Israel,” he said.
But by Tuesday, Turkey seemed to indicate that while its strident anti-Israel posture has been popular among Arabs, it has been at its own expense, undermining its ability to play the role of regional power broker by leaving it with little leverage to intercede in the Gaza conflict. As he headed to Gaza with an Arab League delegation on Tuesday, Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, suggested to reporters that back-channel discussions had been opened with Israeli authorities.
The article contrasts Turkey’s standing in the current conflict with that of Egypt. Since both Egypt’s government and the Hamas rulers of Gaza spring from the Muslim Brotherhood, and since Egypt and Gaza share a border (though not in the ignorant minds of the “flotilla” activists), Egypt has a natural advantage over Turkey as a power broker in this case. Egypt also has history on its side, and in the Middle East, history counts for a lot. So this puts Turkey at a disadvantage to begin with, which it only compounded by making a series of unforced errors.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan keeps trying to close this credibility gap by aiming such venom at the Jewish state that even the Times calls him “anti-Israel.” Part of the problem for Erdogan is that he seems to believe the tales he tells himself. The Times notes that “Turkey’s stature in the Middle East has soared in recent years as it became a vocal defender of Palestinian rights and an outspoken critic of Israel.”
Erdogan is most certainly not a defender of Palestinian rights; he is a defender of Hamas, terrorist entity that executes Palestinians in the streets and pursues a brutish totalitarianism that continues to strangle the life–literally and figuratively–out of the Palestinians it governs.
Erdogan’s marginalization is a positive development, but it also highlights the need to marginalize and disempower the extremists like Hamas with whom Erdogan chooses to ally his country. The “forces of moderation” may be a relative term in the Middle East, but it doesn’t include Hamas, nor, any longer, Turkey.