In September 2010, the Turkish government lead by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a national plebiscite on constitutional amendments that was in fact designed to remove obstacles to its gaining further power. These amendments attack judicial independence by giving the government control over judicial appointments. The secular independent judiciary has been a stumbling block against the AK party's Islamist ambitions.
Additionally, several secularist opposition groups have been unlawfully persecuted and significant aspects of the media, civil service and private business integrated in the Islamist project. Erdogan also removed eminent figures in the state-controlled Ministry of Religion, which organizes the distribution of religious education, academic religious studies and supports Muslims in foreign countries. Secularists in Turkey strongly accuse Erdogan of planning for Islamization.
Erdogan has formerly described Israeli actions as being “state terrorist” and has defended Hamas, saying that it is not a terrorist organization. The Mavi Marmara incident, in which Israeli commandos raided and seized a Turkish owned vessel bound for Palestine, saw the end of ties with Israel as the closest military and diplomatic ally in the Middle East.
Several meetings with Iranian president Ahmadinejad highlighted a shifting trend in Turkish foreign relations - breaking with a long-term partner and consulting its worst enemy. Current wikileaks documents show that Israeli diplomats in Ankara consider Turkey's prime minister a religious "fundamentalist" committed to spreading hatred against Israel. A few weeks after the incident, Turkey voted against fresh sanctions on Iran in the UN Security Council.
The new episode of “Valley of the Wolves”, set in Palestine, plays a significant role in promoting anti-Jewish and anti-American sentiment. It is shown on Turkey's state-owned TV. Yet, a broad secular opposition remains in areas of the media and the traditional Kemalist military.
The Turkish people who are not supporters of the AK party do not seem to care about Erdogan's anti-Israel rhetoric, but the Mavi Marmara incident has had a huge impact. Erdogan's efforts to Islamize the military started a long time ago and were quite successful. Still, the military is the strongest remaining secular force which can prevent Islamization efforts, but if Erdogan's ambitions to enforce a marine intervention in the Israeli conflict are successful, he can easily de-secularize the armed forces.
The current wikileaks documents indicate that Turkey may have been a shadow supporter of terrorist groups for a long time. London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat reported that some of the leaked documents show that Turkey allowed weapons to be smuggled to Al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq. US diplomats recognized “neo-Ottoman” and Islamist ambitions in Turkey's leadership.
Recent wikileaks documents indicate that there is a vital consensus against Iran gaining power over the region. King Abdullah of Saudi-Arabia repeatedly urged the United States to consider military measures to destroy Iran's nuclear program. Jordan, Bahrain, Egypt, Qatar, Oman and the Emirates are also cited as having supported this stance, although not publicly. Some analysts speak of a “Cold War situation” given the Iranian axis.
Current Turkish hostility has weakened Israel's NATO ties. As Turkey has a veto power in the alliance, it is very likely to boycott Israeli security issues regarding the new missile defense shield. Other NATO members have taken Turkey's orientation into account due to the sensitivity of the situation. The major threat which such a shield is supposed to defend against has not been explicitly named - Iran. Turkey is capable of defining the agenda of the defense shield.
Turkey's interests regarding the Iran-Syrian threat are inconsistent with the NATO defense plans. The shift in Turkish policy could result in a massive loss of influence in the Middle East regarding the Iranian threat and the Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. Moreover, NATO security guarantees for Israel regarding missile defense could be worthless, as they are dependent on the Turkish agenda given Erdogan's animosity towards Israel.
The question remains, where do the Islamization efforts of Erdogan lead to?
The US administration has to get tough on Turkey urging American observation of the NATO missile shield and defining the NATO agenda concerning Iran and Syria. The Iranian nuclear threat and the Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement are top priority interests of the US administration. President Obama has to stop presenting Turkey as a model for a democratic Muslim state and take notice of the facts.
The Europeans are lagging behind the agenda concerning security interests in the Middle East. The leaked documents have to be a wake-up call for European leaders to engage in the region. Furthermore, the Western alliances have to confront Turkey with the potential loss of its shifting Western orientation.
Many people in Turkey are disillusioned by “broken promises” towards EU accession and, therefore, understand the AKP's argument that there is nothing to lose in the East as there is nothing to win in the West. The former and current US administration urged the EU to integrate Turkey.
The EU has to make clear that engagement with the terror-spreading Iranian axis not only closes the door for Turkey's accession, but will result in a serious conflict. In the short term, a Turkish intervention in the Middle East has to be prevented. In the long term, Turkey has to be engaged to reaffirm partnership with the West by being given the incentive of EU accession. Therefore, both the US and the EU have to choose a confrontational approach towards the Turkish government and leave the door open for EU accession at the same time.
Niklas Anzinger is a student of Philosophy and Economics at the University of Bayreuth.
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