Turkey’s Most Dangerous Game

Image courtesy of Monkey in the Middle at http://findalismonkeyinthemiddle.blogspot.com
Courtesy: Monkey in the Middle

I have issues with Turkey. In the late 1990’s I used to write for a website and penned commentaries on the Turkish mistreatment of the Kurds. I remember getting into some pretty heated discussions with Turkish nationals over my support of a Kurdish homeland, and received a few threats thrown my way although nothing serious. I support the Kurdish cause which would could take a big bite of about a third from Turkey. The Kurdish state predates the modern Turkish state built by Kamal Ataturk in the 1920’s by a decade. The Kurds had been promised a state from the rubble of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, but for various reasons (like the European powers colonizing the region) it wasn’t to be, and for nearly a century the Kurds have been ignored. Ignored everywhere except in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran – states that have actively fought to stamp out Kurdish culture and history that can trace its roots back to Pharaonic Egypt. The Kurds are a distinct people with their own language and culture, unlike the “Palestinians” who have neither although they already have a state – 3 of them actually: Gaza, the West Bank and Jordan itself.

Over the past eight years or so the Turks have been getting their Islam on, becoming more pious and anti-Western in the process. A decade or so Turkey seemed likely to integrate with the EU and become a full-fledged western state, but the AKP took power in 2002 and has been undermining the secularist state built by Ataturk and the generals that followed him. This process has included reversing the growing economic and military relationship with Israel under the previous regimes, leading recently to the threat by the Turkish prime minister that Israel’s refusal to apologize for the deaths of 7 Turks at the hands of Israeli commandos aboard a Turkish ship challenging the blockade of Gaza was cause for war. Never mind that as soon as the Israelis left Gaza, Jewish holy sites were destroyed as were greenhouses that had provided jobs to Palestinians, and the state became a launching pad for rockets and mortars into Israeli. So much for trading land for peace...

If the Turkish Prime Minister wants to get his war on, why not clear out the festering cesspool that is Syria on his doorstep? The Syrians would welcome the relief, and the Turks might even be lauded by the West for its humanitarian mission – and by Sunni states for checking Iranian power. The AKP has lightened the iron fist on the Turkish Kurds, and the Kurds can wait because they are a patient people. Their time will come and they know it.

But challenging Israel risks unleashing forces that I doubt Prime Minister Erdogan comprehends. American policymakers haven’t forgotten Turkey’s refusal to allow coalition forces through Turkey to Iraq. Provoking Israel would pretty much end Turkey’s flirtation with the EU and result in its expulsion from NATO. American politicians including a US president seen as weak on Israel would leap at the chance to appear supportive of the Jewish state. The Armenian Genocide Resolution which has been dead in Congress for 4 years would likely be signed into law. It would be a purely symbolic act, but symbolic acts are what Turkey is all for – at least when it comes to the Gaza blockade. 70% of US aid to Iraq flows through Turkey, but the Americans are drawing down and the strategic importance of that route lessens by the day. Pakistan has learned the limits of using supply lines for political leverage; the US has contracted with Moscow to move material through Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union; shipping through the Suez Canal and Persian Gulf might add a few weeks to the delivery time, but the material would go through. The biggest card Turkey holds is the Incirlik airbase. Closing that would dent US logistical support in Iraq and Afghanistan – but would also end the hundreds of millions of dollars Turkey receives from Washington DC each year for leasing the base, as well as the loss of thousands of jobs in support personnel. Other nations have played similar games with the US over its bases; ask the Philippines how things are doing at Clark and Subic Bay these days compared to 30 years ago.

A report leaked that Israeli foreign minister Avi Lieberman was considering opening talks with the PKK which the PKK and Lieberman both denied – although Israel is very well versed in playing the Arab “enemy of my enemy is my friend” game. Expect them to announce a “new relationship” with Greece, and for pressure on the US administration to side with the Greeks on the Cyprus Issue. For Turkey Israel is a religious affront, but to Israel Turkey simply joins the long line of intolerant Muslims who want to follow Mohammed’s orders and kill the Jews wherever they are found. For Israel such matters are of life and death, and they will fight accordingly.

Turkey is playing a dangerous game but doesn’t appear to have fully thought through the outcome of its actions. The Turks may find that the game has become all too real and that they don’t want to play anymore – but by then it will be too late.

UPDATE: Joshuapundit weighs in and agrees that war with Israel is unlikely.

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  1. Steven:

    Turkey has certainly changed in the last decade. I’ve seen reports, on the news and blogs, about how Christians are being treated – how it’s starting to resemble Egypt in their application of “but, that’s different” vis a vis Islam and Christianity.

    Getting a new church built, an addition put on, or openly prosletyzing (?sp) for Christ is, shall we say, discouraged, but not so for Islam.

    Turkey is blustering, and I agree Scott, that they are not thinking in chess like moves (3-4 moves ahead) in how Israel will react, how the U.S. will react, and the long term consequences in both cases.

    Turkey NEEDS the EU, and the U.S. Needs, not wants a good relationship. The Middle East “solidarity” is ‘good’ for them as far as “brothers in Allah against the infidel” sense, and makes them FEEL pious, but the Middle East is a region where treachery is celebrated, grudges are multi-generational, and scheming and plotting are a part of daily life. People make light of, and have poked at our naivte in the way we believe in square dealing and open gov’t (in theory on the latter), but, I do not believe those are weaknesses or a “minus” – but rather a sign of our strength and our sense of right and wrong.

    Turkey is thinking short term and is being influenced by Imams that are thinking not of Turkey, but of “the greater good” – whereby if Turkey were to be hurt economically or militarily, they’d then have another grevience victim card to play in the name of Islam – and to hell with the standard of life of the average Turk, or the actual life of their Soldiers.



  2. Scott Kirwin:

    Yes, but they will not be able to blame the generals when the country goes to hell, and Erdogan knows it – which is why he’s doing his best to purge them. The problem is that Ataturk wasn’t an idiot: he made the generals the protector of the secular state (KT wasn’t a fan of religion) and I hope that the officer corps is resilient enough to survive the purges. When Erdogan’s plans fall apart, the generals will be there to pick up the pieces – and a coup will result. That would be the best outcome for both US and Israel.

  3. cuneyt:

    nt only you, but every islam hater has issues with turkey. turkey does not need eu. and your posts will not change anything in turkey. you can play the kurdish card, but that will only convince turks that eu us etc are playing double games, and hence should not be trusted.

    greetings from a kurd

  4. Joseph:

    Iraq is currently under USA protection. According to Kurdish Media, Turkey is threatening to invade Iraq with ground troops (http://www.kurdmedia.com/article.aspx?id=16800). Why doesn’t this make the mainstream news? Why isn’t the USA responding to Turkey’s threats?

  5. Scott Kirwin:

    Turkey regularly attacks PKK bases in Kurdish Iraq, and even sent in 10k troops in 2008. The PKK is recognized as a terrorist organization by the US and EU, and the group doesn’t enjoy broad support within the Kurdish community although many Kurds do support the terror group. Therefore the US has in the past has condoned Turkish actions in Iraq’s Kurdish north. This is probably why the invasion hasn’t gotten much attention – although I’m sure it will merit some coverage in some of the broader papers.

    The problem is that Turkey has changed in 3 years, and there is a level of mistrust between the Americans and Turks that wasn’t there before. Turkey once was the poster-child for Islam’s integration with the West. “See, Turkey is Islamic and it still has democratic and secular institutions,” would go the refrain. Now Turkey has become proof that Islam in its current form and secularism – let alone Westernization – are incompatible. It’s rather sad because contrary to the nonsense I’ve been accused of by Turks, I would rather see a strong secular Turkey than a weak Islamicized Turkey.

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  18. kadir:

    You stupid man we have never attacked kurds they are our borthers we only attacked the pkk because they want to make kurdistan in TURKEY you dont know about anything

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