Turkey’s next leader? Same­man,same dou­ble stan­dards


THIS YEAR will be an ex­cel­lent one for Turkey’s ties with Is­rael. The two coun­tries are pro­jected to trade a record $6bn (£3.6bn) in goods and ser­vices. A quar­ter of a mil­lion Is­raelis will visit Turkey, the high­est num­ber in five years. And this month, 13 daily Is­tan­bul-Tel Aviv flights will fa­cil­i­tate this bur­geon­ing traf­fic of busi­ness and tourism.

It is a re­mark­ably healthy re­la­tion­ship for two coun­tries that have barely spo­ken to each other in four years. Turkey with­drew its am­bas­sador to Tel Aviv and ex­pelled Is­rael’s own en­voy fol­low­ing the 2010 Mavi Mar­mara in­ci­dent, in which nine peo­ple died in an IDF raid on a flotilla of ships bound for block­aded Gaza. De­spite an Is­raeli apol­ogy, diplomatic ties have not been re­stored.

The big­gest ob­sta­cle is Re­cep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s fiery prime min­is­ter, who may win enough votes this week­end to be­come the coun­try’s next pres­i­dent. He has made the sit­u­a­tion in Gaza a cen­tral part of his cam­paign, ap­peal­ing to the Sunni Mus­lim voter base that is al­most large enough to elect him out­right in the first round.

“Those who curse Hitler day and night have now sur­passed Hitler in their bar­barism,” he told a crowd in the Black Sea port of Ordu last month. He has since re­fused to with­draw the com­ment, telling CNN: “We don’t en­dorse what Hitler did, but we don’t ac­cept the op­pres­sion, mas­sacre and geno­cide con­ducted by Is­rael ei­ther.”

This is a mes­sage de­signed to rally his Ana­to­lian vot­ers, who rarely en­counter Is­rael in their daily lives.

There was a call to boy­cott Is­raeli goods, but it pe­tered out be­cause few could find any­thing Is­raeli on their shelves. The ma­jor­ity of Is­raeli tourists visit Turkey’s south coast, where Mr Erdoğan’s party is not strong.

For some, the words are not just se­duc­tive elec­tion­eer­ing but a can­did look into Mr Erdoğan’s think­ing. His for­eign min­is­ter, Ah­met Davu­toğlu, wants to build a sphere of Mus­lim in­flu­ence and has de­scribed Is­rael as a “geopo­lit­i­cal tu­mour” that does not fit this vi­sion, Mar­mara Univer­sity’s Behlül Özkan says. Turkey’s fail­ure to in­flu­ence events in Egypt, Iraq and Syria show how frus­trated a pol­icy it has be­come.

All the while, the prime min­is­ter has per­mit­ted a “dou­ble re­la­tion­ship” whereby busi­ness with Is­rael grows tremen­dously fast. Trade — in­clud­ing Turk­ish food and tex­tiles, Is­raeli elec­tron­ics and de­fence equip­ment — has nearly quadru­pled since he took of­fice a decade ago. Turkey even pro­vides the IDF with boots; some may have been on the ground in Gaza.

The govern­ment is keep­ing the door open to fur­ther ties, too. Only this week, the en­ergy min­is­ter, Taner Yıldız, said there were no plans for a pipe­line to carry Is­raeli gas to Europe over Turkey, but added they would re­con­sider when things im­prove in Gaza.

Mat­ters like these are rarely scru­ti­nised in Turkey. An op­po­si­tion MP posed a par­lia­men­tary ques­tion over re­ports that the prime min­is­ter’s son runs a firm that trades with Is­rael. But be­fore the an­swer is due, Mr Erdoğan will prob­a­bly be elected pres­i­dent. That will sus­tain the dou­ble re­la­tion­ship. Michael Daventry is English edi­tor of ‘Lon­dra’, the Lon­don Turk­ish Gazette


Er­do­gan at a rally in Is­tan­bul ear­lier this week

“As soon as I get near Gaza, these Turk­ish-made boots start pinch­ing me”

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