We’ve been preoccupied with the economy and the primaries but I want to put this on the radar screen, partly as a gloss on that clusterfark at the Israeli embassy last week and partly as background before the Palestinians push for statehood at the UN later this month. Remember that the Arab Spring started in Tunisia when a guy forced by poverty to sell fruit for a living got hassled by the local cops and had his scales confiscated. When they wouldn’t give them back, he snapped and set himself on fire. That incident, defined by economic desperation and abuses of official power, was supposed to be a microcosm of young Arabs’ true frustrations with their governments. This time, the theory went, they wouldn’t be distracted by anti-Israel demagoguery or caterwauling about the Palestinians. They wanted jobs and the vote and everything else was gravy. The scales had fallen from their eyes.
Fast-forward nine months and here’s the Islamist prime minister of Turkey arriving in Cairo to a hero’s welcome from the Muslim Brotherhood to start an Israel-bashing tour of the three nations in the region undergoing revolution. Not only is it the first visit by a Turkish PM to Egypt in ages, it comes at a moment when the Israeli ambassadors to both countries have been ousted: One fled Cairo after the embassy attack and the other was expelled by Turkey when Israel refused to apologize for enforcing its embargo of Gaza against the Turkish “aid” flotilla. Erdogan’s betting that the quickest path to expanding Turkish power in the “new” Middle East isn’t championing employment or democracy (a message which Turkey is almost uniquely suited among Muslim countries to push), it’s saber-rattling against the Zionists. Of course. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss:
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Cairo Monday, amid expectations he will blast Israel at a meeting of the Arab League foreign ministers on Tuesday as part of his efforts to be seen as the head of the Muslim world…
In an interview with the Egyptian daily Al-Shorouk, Erdogan – on the first visit to Egypt by a Turkish prime minister in 15 years — again used the term “spoiled child” to describe Israel, a term he and other top Turkish officials have used repeatedly in recent weeks when talking of Israel.
“Israel has become a spoiled child… Not only does it practice state terrorism against the Palestinians, but it also started to act irresponsibly,” he was quoted as saying…
“The May 31, 2010 Mavi Marmara event, the attack that took place in international waters did not comply with any international law. In fact, it was a cause for war. However, befitting Turkey’s grandness, we decided to act with patience,” Erdoğan said [a few days ago].
His interpretation is completely at odds with that of the UN Palmer Commission report, a commission that the Turks pushed hard for, which said that not only was Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza legal, but so was its interdiction of ships trying to break the blockade.
Not only will Turkey campaign for Palestinian statehood at the UN, Erdogan vowed that the Turkish navy is prepared “for every scenario” when they escort the next “relief mission” to Gaza, thus raising the slim yet surreal possibility of a military confrontation between Israel and a NATO member. And the more influence Erdogan builds for Turkey and its neo-Ottoman ambitions by demagoging Israel, the greater the pressure on other regimes is to keep pace by following suit. Here’s Turki al-Faisal, a top Saudi royal and former ambassador to the United States, warning the White House yesterday that if we veto the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN — which is all but assured — then the U.S./Saudi “alliance” will become even more troublesome than it already is:
Saudi Arabia would no longer be able to cooperate with America in the same way it historically has. With most of the Arab world in upheaval, the “special relationship” between Saudi Arabia and the United States would increasingly be seen as toxic by the vast majority of Arabs and Muslims, who demand justice for the Palestinian people.
Saudi leaders would be forced by domestic and regional pressures to adopt a far more independent and assertive foreign policy. Like our recent military support for Bahrain’s monarchy, which America opposed, Saudi Arabia would pursue other policies at odds with those of the United States, including opposing the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Iraq and refusing to open an embassy there despite American pressure to do so. The Saudi government might part ways with Washington in Afghanistan and Yemen as well.
Translation: “Don’t expect as much help on counterterrorism or peace talks with the Taliban.” It speaks volumes that the Saudi royals, who tried to buy off their own potential revolutionaries with new welfare benefits worth billions back in February, are now mimicking Erdogan by championing Palestinian statehood as the newest revolutionary pacifier. And yet, the irony of all this is that Israel may not be the biggest loser. The big loser might be — ta da — Iran, which was itself hoping to fill the power vacuum in the region after the Arab Spring and is now being outmaneuvered by Turkey. Which is a Sunni revolutionary power more likely to cotton to — the nuclear Shiite menace in Tehran or a fellow Sunni power in Turkey that’s proving its anti-Israel bona fides by beating on the Zionist state? No wonder Israel’s being cautious in handling Turkey: Given all the horrible scenarios that the post-revolutionary Middle East might produce, Turkey as a hedge against Iran might be the least bad. Cold comfort. Click the image to watch.