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Cemal Ahmedoglu

In the past several months, relations between Turkey and the Zionist entity have started to change dramatically. At the height of the Gaza war a year ago, Turkey’s support for Palestinian resistance was second only to Iran. Turkey’s support would not have been so surprising if it was not for the fact that it is the only Muslim member of NATO and the center of cultural and social secularization of Muslim society. Recent diplomatic quarrels between the Zionist entity and Turkey, which have gone on for about a year now, signal not just a change in policy but also a strategic turn by Turkey. This shift in the Turkish approach toward Israel will have far reaching implications for the Muslim world.  

The Domestic Trigger

Since the imposition of Kemalist secularism as official dogma, the military has been the key instrument to prevent Islamic revival in Turkish society. During the cold war every political disagreement with the established authoritarian scheme in Turkey known as “democracy” was dealt with very harshly under the banner of fighting communism. After the Cold War the continuous mismanagement and corruption of the Western-backed political establishment created an urge in Turkish society to revive its Islamic roots in order to solve its problems.

The strong social, economic and political program presented by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was embraced by the overwhelming majority of Turkish people. The huge support received by the AKP due to its Islamic orientation eliminated the possibility of an open military coup to dislodge the people’s government. However, the long entrenched secular establishment, backed by the US and Israel, had many institutional resources at its disposal to combat Islamic revival. Ironically one of these institutions which Israel helped to create laid the groundwork for Turkey’s break with Israel.  

Ergenekon, the principal clandestine institution that at-tempted to overthrow the present government, alarmed the elected government of Turkey untying its hands, making it more aware of the vast network of former officials. The Ergenekon case evol-ved from the discovery of a weapons cache in Trabzon in 2007 into what the Turks have branded “the case of the century”. The discovery of weapons led to uncovering the clandestine institution which was actively preparing to instigate chaos in Turkey and seize power in order to halt the Islamic revival.

The number of documents, weapons and testimonies acquired during the investigation led to the arrest and the ongoing trial of 86 influential people. The list of people on trial includes military generals, intelligence officers, journalists, former judges, businessmen and even a high ranking member in the Orthodox Church. The trial also uncovered the close ties between the Ergenekon group and the Israeli Mossad that has also contributed to undermining relations between the current Turkish government and Israel. The Ergenekon case provided a legitimate reason for the ruling AKP party to crack down on the secularist military establishment in Turkey. Exposure of the truly criminal nature of Ergenekon members, many of whom had ties to the military totally discredited the military establishment in Turkish society.

After the Ergenekon case the AKP realized that no matter how much they give in to the demands of Washington and Tel Aviv, they would never be accepted as equal partners simply because of their independent views on many key policy matters. Therefore, the groundwork for the Turkish and Israeli break was triggered by Israel’s meddling in the domestic affairs of Turkey. Those familiar with Turkish mindset know that the one thing no Turk will ever tolerate is external interference in their domestic policies. Therefore, Turkish-Israeli relations have been greatly damaged at a popular level. They are not likely to revert to the old style again.  

The Wider Implications

During the period of Turkey’s forcible secularization, NATO invested huge sums in the Turkish military leading to the creation of one of the strongest armed forces in the world. The shift of this hard power for Turkey’s new vision that is rooted in its return toward its Islamic past will dramatically shift the balance of power in the world. First, Turkey’s shift away from Israel will completely unmask the treacherous nature of Arabian regimes simply because Ankara knows that in order to regain its historic place in the Middle East it must appeal to the Arab street. It will have to support the struggle in Palestine and Lebanon as it has already started doing.

The fact that the Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri spoke out against UN resolution 1559 during his January trip to Turkey, shows that Turkey is managing to bridge the gap between the anti- and pro-resistance factions in Lebanon. Turkey also has a common interest with Syria and Iraq in countering US-backed Kurdish separatists. Ever since the US occupied Iraq it has created a safe haven for Kurdish fringe groups in Iraq to create instability in Iran. This however also negatively affects Turkey since many PKK terrorists also operate from the US established safe havens.

It is only natural that Turkey will take a harsher stance against the Zionist occupation of Palestine in order to gain greater acceptance among the Arab masses. The more Turkey supports the Palestinian resistance, the more nervous the autocrats in Cairo, Amman and Riyadh will become because it exposes their incompetence to the larger Muslim masses. The Turkish government is able to change its policies now because it has a huge support among the Turkish people. Foreign powers will, therefore, not be able to exert internal pressure on the AKP to keep it as a US-Zionist proxy in the Middle East.

The Turkish return to its pre-Kemalist identity will also influence its policies in the Caucasus and the Turkic states of Central Asia. Turkey will be more accepting of changes there compared to its current preference of maintaining the status quo. The fact that Turkey openly aided Georgia during the Russian aggression of 2008 is a strong signal in that direction. Turkey’s ability to find a common ground with Russia on developing joint energy routes as an alternative to the US-backed NABUCCO oil and gas pipelines, will allow Turkey to use its energy transitory position to resist Russian pressure in Central Asia. In the past, if Turkey had no tangible economic leverage over Russia in pursuing its own interests in Central Asia, Moscow’s need for Turkey to remain the key energy supplier to Europe gives Ankara a strong bargaining position. Taking into account the Russian government’s thirst for money, it will not be difficult to convince Moscow to grant some concessions in the post-Soviet area in return for helping the Russian government to get the much needed euros for its oil and gas supplies to Europe.

Turkey’s reassertion of its independence from the US and Zionist domination will also bolster its position in the EU. Since most of the Turkish population in the EU is highly discriminated against and completely alienated, Ankara’s outreach to them will increase. Most Turks living in Europe are religious and many left Turkey because of Kemalism. A more Islamically-oriented Turkey will make them more attached to their homeland; this will serve as leverage against the EU’s discriminatory approach towards Turkey.  

It is hard to tell exactly what form Turkey’s strategic policy shift will take. One thing, however, is clear: if its policy shift gets stuck in the neo-Ottoman mindset of mostly Turkish nationalism with a little bit of Islamic flavor, Turkey will fail to win the trust of the Arabs. If Turkey does not win their trust, its comeback as a regional player will be uncertain. If the anti-Islamic forces inside and outside Turkey manage to use the Islamic credentials of AKP for narrow nationalistic interests, Turkey will be no better than Saudi Arabia. If Turkey truly wants to gain its rightful position in the region it must not be afraid to break with Kemalist established taboos.  


After the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in Ankara, many in the West referred to a new Turkish foreign policy called "neo-Ottomanism", suggesting a revival of the intellectual, political and social influence of the Ottoman Empire, which departed the scene 92 years ago.

That policy was attributed to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his advisor, now foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. Quickly, however, the term "Ottomanism" began to fade, given that it was difficult to market in countries formerly controlled by the Ottoman Empire, due to continued indoctrination against Ottomanism by the Arabs over nince decades.

Some, however, continued to stand by the term, including Cuneyt Zapsu, an advisor to the Turkish prime minister, who said: "A new, positive role for Turkey in the world requires a reconciliation with its own past, the overcoming of societal taboos, and a positive new concept of Turkish identity. We are the Ottomans' successors and should not be ashamed of this."

Decision-makers in Turkey had once tried to hide their Ottoman past, ashamed of it during the heyday of Kemal Ataturk, because it looked backward and was too Islamic for the secular state that was being carefully erected in Turkey. That is now a thing of the past thanks to the steady policy of the AKP, which has been opening up to countries such as Syria and, more recently, Lebanon.

Many wrongly interpreted Erdogan's policy towards the Arab world, now entering its seventh year, as purely a Syrian-Turkish alliance. By nature of his new orientation, Erdogan is striving to restore Turkey to its rightful place amongst Arab and Muslim nations, and that by no means stops at the gates of Damascus. It is a policy that embraces Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

During the past few years, Turkey has sponsored indirect talks between Syria and Israel, tried to hammer out solutions between Fatah and Hamas in Palestine, and worked on mending broken fences between Damascus and Baghdad after relations soured last August.

Turkey has permanently stood as a mediator between Iran and the Arab world and has worked hard to help embrace non-state players like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas, whose leadership it received in Ankara in 2004, despite public outcry from the United States.

Additionally, it has tried to flex its muscle within the complex world of Iraqi politics, calling on Sunni leaders to take part in the political process that was started after the 2003 downfall of Saddam Hussein. Big brother Turkey, after all, had mediated in similar waters at the turn of the 20th century, and apparently still knows the region, its people and their plight only too well, and still feels best suited to solve existing conflict within it.

Last month, Erdogan received Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri in a groundbreaking visit to Turkey, adding yet another link to the long chain of alliances that Erdogan is carefully creating for the Turkish republic.

Among other things, the two countries agreed to increase technical and scientific cooperation in military affairs and lift visa requirements between Lebanon and Turkey. At first glance, this will boost tourism and people-to-people contact between Beirut and Ankara.

According to official numbers, 50,794 Lebanese tourists went to Turkey in 2008 - an increase of 18,000 from 2007 and large when compared with the number, not more than a few hundred, of Turkish tourists who streamed into Beirut.

It will certainly affect bilateral trade, which stood at US$225 million in 2002 and now stands at $900 million. It also means that Turkey has now lifted visa requirements with six Arab countries, the others being Libya, Morocco, Tunis, Jordan and Syria.

Erdogan best explained it by saying that a "regional Schengen" system, similar to the agreement signed between European countries in Luxemburg in 1985, has now gone into effect in the region, removing systematic border control between these countries - making them closer to how they had been under the Ottoman Empire. When Iraq normalizes, he added, it, too, could join the regional "Schengen" system.

Clearly from all the optimism shown by Erdogan for the Hariri visit, cooperation between Turkey and Lebanon will not end there. The Turkish premier, after all, has visited Beirut twice, in 2007 and in 2008, and was the most senior foreign guest attending the inauguration of Lebanese President Michel Suleiman.

During the Israeli war of 2006, he firmly stood by the Lebanese, and in its immediate aftermath, sent 600 Turkish troops to take part in peacekeeping on the Lebanese-Israeli border by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. Erdogan saw to it that $50 million worth of aid was given to reconstruct southern Lebanon, along with building 41 schools, five parks and a rehabilitation center worth $20 million.

Politically, Lebanon and Turkey are now colleagues in rotating positions at the UN Security Council, and this is where real political cooperation will materialize in the months to come. Turkey's heavyweight influence will come in handy as Lebanon tries to waiver Security Council resolution 1559, which called on the Syrians to withdraw from Lebanon and stipulates the disarmament of non-state players, including Hezbollah.

In as much as the Hariri team once called for implementing 1559 in 2005-2009, they would now prefer that it disappears, given that, far from being an adversary, Hezbollah is now a Hariri ally, strongly represented in both parliament and the Hariri cabinet.

The Lebanese government recently claimed that the resolution should be canceled, saying that all of its clauses had been fulfilled, noting that Hezbollah was a part of the Lebanese state and defense system and not merely a non-state player or a militia, as many in the West claim it to be.

That argument, which saves both Hezbollah and Hariri the burden of having to deal with 1559, was put forth last December by Hariri's new Foreign Minister Ali al-Shami, an appointee of the Hezbollah-led team in the Hariri cabinet.

When speaking at a press conference with Erdogan, Hariri noted that not a single day passed where the Israeli Defense Forces did not infringe on Lebanese waters or airspace, claiming that this was a legal breach of UN resolution 1701, which was passed after the war of 2006.

Erdogan nodded, saying that Israel had breached "no less than 100" resolutions in recent years, adding: "This requires serious reforms at the United Nations. We do not support Israel's position and will not remain silent."

Having Turkey on Lebanon's side will be a great boost for Hezbollah, which is preparing for a possible new round of confrontation with Israel in summer this year. From Ankara, Hariri came to Hezbollah's defense, telling reporters, "Terrorism is not when one defends one's land - the opposite is correct," thus supporting Hezbollah's war against Israel until the Sheba Farms are liberated from Israeli occupation.

This fits in nicely with the barrage of criticism that Erdogan has been firing against Israel for the past year, started in January 2009 when, speaking at Davos right after the Gaza war, he told Israeli President Shimon Peres: "President Peres, you are old, and your voice is loud out of a guilty conscience. When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill. I know well how you hit and kill children on beaches."

Best mirroring Erdogan's new policy is that, despite the new and firm relationship with the Arabs, he has not wasted his country's historical relationship with Israel. Although critical, his embassy remains open in Tel Aviv, and he is preparing to receive Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Ankara in late January.

Only by being able to talk to all parties will the Turks achieve the security and normalcy they aspire to in the Middle East. While Israel is not pleased with Erdogan's new policy, claiming that he has clearly taken sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Arabs are thrilled that the Turkish giant has emerged and, unlike the case since 1918, is now clearly on their side in the battlefront.

He has reminded the Arabs that despite a very rough period in bilateral relations during World War I, the Ottoman legacy in the Arab world was not all bad, and not all autocratic. Why? Because by defending Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, Erdogan feels that he is also defending Turkey, seeing all four countries as one, given their geographic, historical, social, religious and cultural proximity.

Many of the finest buildings in Damascus and Beirut, after all, were constructed during the Ottoman era. So were many of the codes, laws of commerce and aspects of civil administration, which lasted well into the 20th century. The Ottoman influence on Arab language, heritage, music, heritage and cuisine, cannot be ignored, despite years of trying to write off anything Ottoman as being destructive to Arab culture.

Although the Ottomans struck with an iron fist at the Arabs working with Great Britain against them during the Great War, they also - very symbolically - refused to sell land in Ottoman Palestine to the Zionists during the reign of Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II. He even refused to meet the Jewish banker Mizray Qrasow when, in 1901, he offered to pay off the empire's debts and build it a navy in exchange for the right to build colonies and buy Arab land in Palestine. Abdul Hamid told one of his aides, "Tell those impolite Jews that I am not going to carry the historical shame for selling holy land to the Jews and betraying the responsibility and trust of my people."

It is that part of Ottoman history that Erdogan wants the Arabs to remember, not the hangman's noose that was erected by the Ottoman governor of Syria, Jamal Pasha, in the central squares in Beirut and Damascus in 1915-1916.

When the republics were young in Lebanon, Turkey and Syria, Turkish and Arab nationalism stood in the way of a clear appreciation of history, leading to nothing but bad blood between Arabs and Turks. That era is now hopefully gone - never to return - thanks to the efforts of Erdogan, referred to, very symbolically, by Hariri as "Big Brother" during his Ankara visit.


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GLOBAL UMMAH SOLIDARITY - by moeenyaseen - 08-23-2006, 11:07 PM

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