When the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a statement on Saturday afternoon relating to the attempted coup in Turkey the night before, it appeared to me that the brief, carefully worded diplomatic message was anything but a ringing endorsement of President Erdogan and his regime.
It came as a surprise then to see some of today’s Israeli media reports suggesting that Israel has “rallied behind” the long-standing and controversial Turkish leader. This is the Foreign Ministry’s message:
“Israel respects the democratic process in Turkey and looks forward to the continuation of the reconciliation process between Turkey and Israel.”
I would suggest the message is hardly an unequivocal gesture of support, and the words “respects the democratic process” could arguably be a nuanced nod to the fact that democracy in Turkey is seemingly being eroded at an alarming rate of knots – and will surely be eroded even faster by Erdogan in light of the failed coup attempt.
There’s no doubt that Israel, understandably, is keen to maintain the recent momentum towards the normalization of relations with Turkey, but it must surely have been the case that many in Jerusalem were waiting with bated breath on Friday night to see if the volatile Erdogan, whose vicious anti-Israel rhetoric in recent years in light of the Mavi Marmara affair has been well documented, might finally exit the political scene.
It didn’t happen. The man who has given safe haven to Hamas leaders, financially supported the terror group in Gaza, viciously attacked the Kurds who have fought against radical Islamist terror in the region these past four years, clamped down on free speech and social media at home, and who has promoted an insidious agenda of Islamization in Turkey (not unlike the ill-fated Morsi regime in Egypt), is still there and will likely promote an even more distasteful agenda at home.
The purge since Saturday night of Turkey’s mainly secular military and legal classes in the aftermath of the attempted coup – an uprising apparently carried out by people fearing Turkey’s slippery slide into Islamization – is a hugely worrying development. Erdogan, for now, appears to have carte blanche to lock up anyone he chooses, with or without just cause. Latest reports indicate as many as 6000 may already be incarcerated.
In the medium to long term, given Erdogan’s particularly bellicose past behavior towards Israel and his penchant for erratic foreign policy statements and decisions, it would come as no surprise to see the Israeli-Turkish rapprochement stall or even collapse.
That, of course, would be regrettable. Both Turks and Israelis have much to gain by the renewed dialogue and potential co-operation, both facing similar enemies and challenges in the region.
Erdogan, however, is a very dangerous wild card whose grip on power long since went to his head. Time might well prove that this weekend’s failure to remove the man who has extended his iron grip on Turkey by moving Putin-like from the role of prime minister to president, was a missed opportunity for the secular majority in Turkey, and for the possibility of engaging with a more reasoned, stable, and genuine partner for Israel in the region.