Today, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced his country is suspending all defense ties with Israel. This move follows a downgrade of diplomatic relations revealed by the sudden expulsion of Israel’s ambassador due to his refusal to apologize for the 2010 raid on a flotilla of activists heading for Gaza, that led to the death of nine Turks. Adding insult to injury, Mr. Erdogan took the opportunity to label the raid as “savagery” and accused Israel of acting like “a spoiled boy” in the region.
But let’s unpack down the rhetoric. That their once-mutually beneficial defense relationship has reached its terminus is due to the fact that Turkey’s contracts with Israeli companies — designed to upgrade Turkey’s US-made jets and tanks, etc. — have already been completed. Yes, they’re certainly bitter enough to throw a hysterical tantrum about Israel’s decision to merely express regret over the loss of life, but to be clear, Turkey’s stance abroad is all about the extreme makeover its undergoing at home.
Somewhere amidst the Mavi Marmara flotilla calamity 15 months ago and the EU’s decade-long “Dear John,” Ankara decided to redefine its posture in the eastern Mediterranean. They’re actively building ties to the Arab south, the Balkan north and those easily confused central-Asian-‘stans to the east. However, in the shortsighted prism of Turkish reinvention, it apparently stands to reason that a former strategic ally and trading partner gets the cold shoulder in Ankara’s bid to become the military and economic leader in the region.
But Turkish bombast is made manifest beyond the rhetoric. Airstrikes in Iraq’s Kurdistan followed an all-out barrage on nearly 170 locations in region. The attacks were aimed at the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party – an insurgent group which has been fighting for autonomy in the southeast of Turkey since the Reagan administration. However, rumors that Mr. Erdogan is funding a new fleet of ships to sail to Gaza under protection by Turkish warships are even more alarming if only for the fact that they’d be joined by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, that have also offered warship protection. Moreover, Ankara is now assisting the Turkish-based Humanitarian Aid Foundation (ÍHH) in fundraising for the acquisition of a new fleet of ships to carry humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.
This move marks a significant uptick from the clubs, knives and guns used against the Israeli military in the last flotilla debacle. But the Turkish decision to counter the UN’s decision that Israel’s naval blockade is legitimate with an utter and abject insult to the Jewish state goes beyond pomposity – in fact, we’re trending into neo-Ottomanism.
This is one to watch.