Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Turkey's tilt isolates Israel: Changing balance of power in Middle-East

Turkey, one of the strongest allies of Israel, has taken an unusually strong stand over the flotilla raid, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan is almost daily issuing statements that 'warn' Israel.

The Turkish premiere's tone and his consistent attack on Israel, even going to the extent of asking the world community to punish the Zinoist state, has come as a surprise for not just Israel but the rest of the Arab world.

Erdogan is not just playing for the gallery. After almost a century, Turkey, with a resounding economy, wants to emerge as leader of the Middle-East. However, it was all unthinkable till recently.

Long ago when headscarf was not much heard of and ban on hijab was not remotely on agenda anywhere in the world, Turkey, a 99% Muslim majority country, had kept the headscarf banned. Its strange secularism surprised us in South Asia, as a woman entering Parliament with her head covered would lead to nation-wide row in Turkey.

Turkey under Mustafa Kemal Pasha 'Ataturk' had dumped the Arabic script and took to English. It tried every bit to appear European. It shed its Islamic identity and the 'sickman of Europe' was the first country to recognise Israel, way back in 1950.

Even during the 1967 war when joint Arab armies were routed by Israel, Turkey didn't term Tel Aviv an aggressor. But the restlessness among Turks was growing since late 90s. The Turks did everything they could to be inducted into European Union.

For years Ankara tried to adapt itself in accordance with the EU demands. Either it was the issue of human rights, relations with its neighbours, treatment of minorities or other concerns. This happened despite the fact that Turkey was a member of Europe Council since 1949 and was associate member of EU in the 60s.

However, rising Islamophobia in Europe resulted in more objections against Turkish bid. France amended its constitution to seek for referendum on the issue. Other countries also got apprehensive.

Turks were getting angry and with every passing year, the percentage of citizens supporting EU bid was going down.

In fact, Turks felt humiliated. As they were made to feel that the country was not worth a membership in the elite club despite chasing [or begging] it for decades and doing everything to change themselves for it. Now there was a movement against EU bid in Turkey.

Erdogan is known to be practising Muslim and has taken a populist stand. The plight of Palestinians and the Arab leaders' lipservice towards ameliorating the situation, is reason for rise of Hasan Nasrullah and Iran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In fact, lot is common between Erdogan and Ahmadinejad. Erdogan was a Mayor of Istanbul before he became the Prime Minister. Ahmadinejad was also Mayor of Teheran before he became his country's president.

Since 2009, Erdogan has gradually taken a harsh stance against Israel. However, after the raid on flotilla in which nine Turks were killed, Erdogan went on to ask the world community to take action on Israel and even termed it 'state terrorism'. Turkish Foreign minister went ahead, terming it a 9/11 for his country.

In fact, Erdogan seems to have captured the imagination of Arab street and has beaten Ahmadinejad in the recent round of rhetoric. Jews are no less worried as the state of Israel is increasingly getting cornered over the Gaza blockade. For Arab states, it is no a happy situation either.

Though they can briefly take delight in the fact that Turkey is aiming for greater influence in the region. This is a shade better than Shia-majority Iran wielding influence and swaying the youth with its sharp rhetoric and stand against USA-Israel.

Turkey is a NATO ally. Any attack on a NATO country is an attack on the entire organisation. After its brush with Hezbollah, Israel is no longer complacent about its armed superiority over its neighbours.

It has been a calculated process of distancing itself from Israel. With Egypt, another strong power, facing a credibility crisis in Arab world and receiving flak for its 'inhuman' approach to Palestinians, Turkey is playing the role of the Arab-leader in the geopolitics of post-Iraq Middle-East.

Turks may or may not be doing it to avenge the humiliation inflicted by European Union. It has a robust economy and almost a year after the global meltdown, USA is no longer in the power to box the ears of the heads of states which are its allies.

It is clear that 21st century Turkey is aiming for a neo-Ottomanian era. Turkey is allying with Latin American countries that thrive on anti-Americanism and is also ready to play the leader in Arab world by strengthening ties with Lebanon and Syria.

This will also help it in negotiating on better terms with EU. As a result, it sees no harm in dumping its old ally. With Russian leader holding meet with Erdogan and Ahmadinejad, the situation is becomeing a little too comlicated for USA as well. Interesting days ahead in Middle-East.