Lost in all of the discussions of the Arab Spring is the reality that the movement thus far has not been about the throwing off of dictatorships and the rise of democratically elected governments so much as it has been about the rise of Islamist parties. Egypt appears to be about to elect a government led by the Muslim Brotherhood which is extremely hostile to Israel. Libya’s new government, along with the governments of Chad and Ethiopia, have made good friends of Omar al Bashir, the leader of Sudan who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, and Tunisia is now ruled by Islamists as well. Should Assad be overthrown in Syria, it appears likely that Islamists, not secular Democracy advocates, will take over there. Meanwhile, prior to the beginning of the Arab Spring, Hizballah and its allies quietly took over the government in Lebanon and Hamas had for several years already been in control of Gaza.
There has been no little concern expressed about the rise of Islamist governments and for good reason. These governments tend to be vocally, and sometimes actively, anti-Western and anti-Israel. Some of these Islamic movements have worked with Turkey, others with Iran, and some with both of them over the past year as they have come to power.
Iran has been exerting its influence all over the region, supplying weaponry and sending operatives to train the armies of these new governments. Iranian weapons are being used, alongside Russian made ones, by the Sudanese government in its attacks against civilians in southern Sudan and in northern South Sudan. They have also been used against American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran has been trying hard to supply Hamas and Islamic Jihad and has been quite successful in helping to arm Hizballah and Syria, weapons that are currently keeping Assad in power.
Turkey on the other hand has been trying to be the political leader. It has sought to lead the Arab League. It wishes to determine the political direction of the Muslim states in the region in an attempt to recreate at least the unity of the region during the Ottoman period, if not to reestablish Turkey’s leading position during that era as well.
In recent months, the relationship between Israel and Turkey has seemingly thawed. Israel repaired and returned drones that it had sold to Turkey, something that had been delayed for years. Some may believe that this signals an improvement in relations between the two nations. But all is not as it appears. For several years now, Turkey has been harshly critical of Israel and been actively working to support the Palestinian cause against its former ally. Just this week, it said that it may indict Israeli generals for the Mavi Marmara incident. Turkey is not yet over its “Mad.”
Turkish President Abdullah Gül met with President Obama this week in an attempt to encourage the sale of American drone aircraft to Turkey. The need to purchase the American drones has dramatically increased because Turkish relations with Israel have deteriorated to the point that using Israeli drones, which had been the prior practice, has become problematic. The Turkish Weekly article tells us that:
While meeting Gül, Obama called for Turkish-Israeli reconciliation, saying recovery in ties between the two key US allies would also help stability in the region. Gül, on the other hand, was not responsive, saying Turkey will normalize its ties with the Jewish state only if it fulfills well-known conditions — namely an apology for a deadly May 2010 raid on a Turkish ship in the eastern Mediterranean and the lifting of an Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Gül in response to the argument that Turkey needs to mend relations with Israel said that:
If someone tells us to fix our relations with Israel, we interrupt, even if this is US President Obama. We tell them to tell Israel to fix its relations with us.
In addition to all of this, Israel has now improved its relations with the government of Southern Cyprus which is hostile to Turkey, something that further complicates its relationship with Turkey.
While all of this is going on, something more damaging for Turkey has been happening behind the scenes. A new kind of the old Pan-Arabism is on the rise. The old version involved creating nationalistic governments. The new kind involves creating Islamist ones. Pan-Arabism in general is an ideology that seeks to unite the Arab world against its enemies. At the top of the list of enemies have traditionally been America and Israel. In some nations, such as Sudan, Africans find themselves threatened. However, Pan-Arabism started in the early 20th Century as an Arab movement to cast off the yoke of the Ottoman Empire, to end Turkish rule. The rise of the new Pan-Arabism is not good for the Turks.
Thus, Turkey finds itself in 2012 having sided with people who have rejected it both in Europe where its entry into the European Union has been blocked and in the Arab League where it is at best seen as an interloper and at worst as a threat. Having sided against Israel and placed barriers to improved relations with it, Turkey has angered America’s leadership and finds an American legislature loathe to come to its aid. This is a terrible situation that has been created because of the leadership of Prime Minister Erdogan’s government, a situation that has isolated Turkey from its allies, America and Israel, while at the same time finding no outstretched arms in the Arab world.
America and Israel both would greatly benefit from improved relations with Turkey, a nation that can help bring stability to the Eastern Mediterranean and with whom military and economic cooperation were and can be again mutually beneficial. What continues to make little sense is the fact that seeing the reality it faces, Turkey does not see how intentionally damaging its relationship with Israel and the ongoing prevention of improvement of that relationship have done and continue to do Turkey tremendous harm.