Changing the Middle East

From the August 2004 Trumpet Print Edition

Seven years ago, the Trumpet said relative peace would likely prevail between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East for as long as Turkey was prepared to stand by Israel—but that this situation would not last (“Turkey: An Act of Revenge,” December 1997; you can view this article online at www.theTrumpet.com under Editors Choice).

Turkey’s actions in recent months indicate a change in its orientation and a distancing of itself from Israel. The partnership between Israel and Turkey, which the Jerusalem Post describes as “one of the Middle East’s most important geopolitical alliances,” is showing signs of weakness (June 15). This heralds disruption for the region.

In 1996, Turkey and Israel signed a military cooperation accord, to the chagrin of Arab countries and Iran. In the years that followed, Turkey became Israel’s closest military ally in the Middle East. At the time, Syria—the main reason Turkey and Israel had common strategic interests—was regarded as an enemy by Turkey due to its protection of Kurdish rebels.

But since then, Turkey has not only resolved its differences with Syria, but also moved toward rapprochement with other Arab countries and Iran in addition to strongly supporting the Palestinians.

Ilan Berman, vice president for policy at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, d.c., said that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan “appears to have begun a unilateral rollback of strategic cooperation with Jerusalem” (ibid.). In 2002, his ruling Justice and Development Party (akp), which sprang from a banned Islamist movement, became the first exclusively Islamic government in republican Turkey. Since then, Turkey’s foreign policy has aligned more with historical rivals Syria and Iran and further from Israel and, by extension, America. In recent months, Erdogan has spoken out publicly against Israel, even accusing it of state terrorism.

What’s more, Turkish policymakers are making moves to strengthen the government’s control over the secularist military, which has been the major advocate of strategic alliance with Israel since the Cold War and referred to as the “guardian of secularism” in Turkey. In May, Turkey’s parliament approved numerous laws limiting the military’s power, and the nation’s influential national security council can now have a civilian as general secretary, allowing the Islamic government to have more involvement in the military’s leadership in the future.

Another factor exacerbating the tension between Israel and Turkey is the Kurdish situation in Iraq. In a New Yorker article, reputable investigative journalist Seymour Hersh cited numerous Israeli, Turkish and U.S. sources who maintained that Israel is providing military support and training to Kurdish forces in northern Iraq (June 28). Turkey, home to 13 million Kurds, is strongly opposed to any support given to Iraqi Kurds, which could encourage them to secede—a situation that would surely spill over to involve Kurds on its own soil. Not only does this make Turkey distrustful of Israel, it brings the Turks closer in strategic interests to the Syrians and Iranians, who also have concerns with their own Kurd populations.

All this does not bode well for Israel. Alone among mostly hostile Muslim states, Israel has placed great value on its strategic partnership with influential Turkey. Turkey’s absence of support for Israel will change the balance of power in the Middle East, allowing circumstances to prevail that will in the near future lead to an Arab-Israeli conflagration, initiated by the Arabs, who will have a new confidence that Turkey won’t come to Israel’s aid.

As it pulls away from Israel, Turkey is starting to show its true colors. Though tensions between the two countries will no doubt be publicly smoothed over in the short term, watch for a continuing deterioration in their shaky relationship—a trend that prophecy reveals will eventually lead to a vulnerable Israel being besieged by Arab forces and the beginning of World War iii.