The Trouble With Turkey, a Disproportionate Response.

There were two meetings of import this past week, both symbolic and telling as to where things are headed in the region. One was in Anakra, the other in Jerusalem. In the Turkish capital, Prime Minister Erdogan together with Ahmet Davutoglu and Hakan Fidan his diplomatic and intelligence chiefs, discussed the region with an esteemed but tired guest who had been piling up miles scuttling about the region picking up money and promises in Cairo and Amman. Back in Jerusalem, Israel’s Prime Minister was huddled around the conference table in the national security HQ talking about the need to strengthen diplomatic and military ties with the regions most important power broker. However in Bibi’s meeting, not a Minister, Major-General, Diplomat or Secretary was present. His guests were Turkish journalists. Erdogan’s guest, Khaled Meshaal of Hamas.

Erdogan is known to give speeches in Arab capitals to the tune of ending autocracy in the Muslim world, accentuating fundamental rights and freedoms, and emphasizing the need for unity and togetherness, and it’s possible that Meshaal was receiving a tutorial on Liberal politics to be implemented back in Gaza. But I wouldn’t bet on it. Perhaps they were discussing new home and base of operations for the Islamic group? Again not likely. The Saudis and Qataris have just recently promised Hamas the cash it needs to build in Gaza, the rapprochement with Jordan’s king Abdullah will give Meshaal the legitimacy he needs with the moderate Arab regimes, and the meetings with Egypt’s new president Mohamed Morsi could lead to an easing of border restrictions between Gaza and Egypt as long as Hamas plays nice with Abu Mazen. So Erdogan’s charity and diplomatic cover can be taken off the docket too.

So what could Erdogan offer Meshaal that hasn’t already been promised by his Arab brothers? The answer is nothing. The question that should now be asked is what could Meshaal offer Erdogan. The answer, another opportunity to flaunt the widening empathy gap between the Turkish leader and Israel. Meshaal was Erdogans crude response to Bibi’s talking a brighter future with the Turkish press. Erdogan’s message; Not On My Watch Bub.

But instead of inviting Meshaal to his home to break the Ramadan fast, what Erdogan should have done was summon one of the many capable and willing Israeli journalists to Ankara, and sit down for frank chat over tea. For his part, Bibi explained to the Turkish reporters against the backdrop of Turkish and Israeli flags, that his government indeed wanted to resume its diplomatic and military cooperation with Turkey, and was prepared to wade through the mud to do so. So, then the first question over tea should be Mr. Erodgan, do you share the view that Israel and Turkey need to get along for the sake of regional peace and stability? Erdogan has been very clear on the fact that his problem is not with Israelis but with their leaders, so here’s a good follow up. Even though this is a personal and not a national interest issue for you, do you regret breaking diplomatic and basic civility protocols when you called Shimon Peres a liar and a murderer in Davos and publically embarrassed one of the worlds most respected elder statesmen? But discussions with Israel’s journalists don’t have to center on the personal issues, after all the relations between states matter more that personal relationships, just ask Bibi and Obama, (or Bibi and Clinton, or Bibi and the other Clinton.) But between the leaders of once close strategic allies, they could focus on the many common interests Israel and Turkey would like to see resolved favorably during these uncertain times.

Using the Gaza precedent, where it has been established after Operation Cast Lead that is unconscionable for the the Turkish PM to bear witness to the murder and indignation of fellow Muslims, would he consider dispatching his Air Force to Aleppo for example, and clear the skies of Bashar Assad’s attack helicopters, perhaps in conjunction with the Qataris and Jordanians, and give the Syrian rebels the chance for the fair fight they need to topple Assad. How about drawing a parallel between your need to attack the PKK to stop terrorism within your borders, and Israel’s need to do the same with regard to Hamas and Hezbollah? No? Ok then, how about Iran? Turkey had been importing around 200,000 barrels per day from Iran, about 30% of its own domestic imports and 7% of Iran’s exports. Trade between the two countries also increased from $1billion a decade ago to $16 billion last year. Would you, Mr Erdogan, commit Turkey to the deals you discussed with Libya and Saudi Arabia to purchase their supplies and ensure that the international communities sanctions on Iran work so peace and stability can flourish in your own backyard? As you have said publicly, you are “enjoying a model partnership with the American administration..both within our region and within the G20” and that this is a source of “pride and joy” for us. So prove it and get on board with their efforts.

Hakan Fidan, your intelligence chief who was no doubt emploring Meshaal at your Iftar meal to stop bringing in Iranian and Libyan arms, has the ear of Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force and a top security advisor to Khamenei. Could his time not have been better served do you think, trying to reduce Iranian support for a decaying regime in Damascus?

Rather that instructing your Foreign minister to crow of his accomplishment in securing the absence of Israel from NATO summits, or securing prison sentences in Turkish courts for Gabi Ashkenazi, Eliezer Marom and Amos Yadlin, do you think it could be in your interest to keep their reputations intact, and work with them instead of against them? But what do I know, you haven’t invited me for tea, and I can’t put words in your mouth. But here’s some free advice, reciprocate Bibi’s gesture and have some Israelis come to town. Lay down a vision for friendship, cooperation and how to reach mutual goals.

I guess what I’m really saying Mr Erdogan, is forget Khaled Meshaal. Next time just call me, maybe.


About the Author
Yaniv Salama-Scheer is a Canadian-born journalist who has reported on the Middle East from Israel and the region for The Jerusalem Post and The Times of Israel