Diplomacy

Turkish Prime Minister to Delay Trip to Gaza Amid U.S. Criticism

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is delaying a planned trip to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, which if carried out would widely be viewed as a diplomatic victory for the Iran-backed terror group. He will now delay the trip at least until after he meets with President Barack Obama in May.

The Turkish prime minister had originally announced the trip after he was maneuvered into accepting Israeli-Turkish reconciliation on terms that he had long rejected as inadequate, prompting analysts to express concerns that Turkish leaders were overcompensating to save face, backsliding on their conditions and commitments, and threatening a rapprochement that U.S. officials considered critical to promoting U.S. interests.

The White House quickly dispatched Secretary of State John Kerry to Ankara to – according to observers – “smooth things over” regarding the reconciliation. The State Department pointedly noted that it expected allies to avoid boosting Hamas.

Erdogan’s threats to travel to the Gaza Strip come in the wake of several incidents in which anti-Israel statements and moves by the prime minister have triggered diplomatic blow-back from the West. Kerry and his Canadian counterpart John Baird both recently slammed Erdogan for describing Zionism as a crime against humanity. Turkey supported the Palestinian Authority’s bid to secure a declaration of non-member statehood in the United Nations, a move that was done over strong U.S. objections and which Turkey’s subsequently appointed ambassador to Palestine praised.

Turkish affairs expert Michael Koplow has emphasized the degree to which Erdogan’s “bombast” regarding Israel broadly damages Turkey’s diplomatic posture and its relationship with the United States:

Erdogan and Ahmet Davutoglu’s head over heels rush to damn Israel at every juncture has actually contributed to Turkey losing its foreign policy direction more generally… at some point Turkey decided that it would rather try and throw its weight around on a host of issues. While this might have enhanced Turkey’s influence had it worked out, it quite obviously didn’t, and so now not only does Turkey appear impotent when it comes to Israel or pressuring the Assad regime in Syria, it has also lost its credibility as a valuable interlocutor… the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s power to get things done has waned.

Second, it’s not just Israel that Erdogan went off on, but on the U.S. as well, and on that front Erdogan is truly playing a dangerous game… Erdogan decided to direct his ire at the U.S. despite conversations with Obama in recent days about how Turkey can play a productive role in ending the fighting in Gaza, implicitly criticizing the U.S. by blasting the anonymous “they” who claim Israel is acting in self defense. In employing increasingly unhinged rhetoric about Israel, Erdogan also forced the State Department to publicly chastise Turkey and to reveal that the U.S. has done so in private as well. Anyone who thinks that all this is not harming Turkey’s status here in the U.S. is either being willfully delusional or is too block headed to see what is glaringly obvious.

It might be good domestic politics in Turkey to foam at the mouth whenever the subject of Israel comes up, and Erdogan clearly relishes the opportunity to bash Israel whenever he can for a combination of some principled and some cynically self-serving reasons. It probably feels good to do so, but at the same time it is clearly harming Turkish interests and Turkish prestige… Turks of all political stripes are beginning to realize this, and if Erdogan is the last person to see the writing on the wall.

[Photo: U.S. Department of State / Wiki Commons]