In 2009, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stormed off the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he had been sitting next to Israeli president Shimon Peres. “You are killing people,” Erdogan yelled at Peres over the fighting at the time between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Erdogan didn’t just leave the stage; he also made a strategic decision to destroy Israeli-Turkish relations, until then a cornerstone of the tenuous security and stability that existed in the Middle East.
For Peres, personally, it was also a slap in the face. Just months earlier he had visited Turkey on his first overseas trip as president, a sign of the importance the ties meant for Israel. During his visit, he was treated like royalty and even stayed in the Presidential Palace in Ankara. After Davos that seemed like a distant memory.
This Wednesday, Erdogan will meet with US President Donald Trump in the White House, and the two are expected to discuss a wide-range of issues, from Turkey’s continued membership in NATO to the US withdrawal from Syria and the ongoing Turkish military operation there, as well as Iranian attempts to establish military bases in the war-torn country.
Trump should add another issue to his agenda: getting Erdogan to stop his blatant antisemitism and anti-Israel policies and rhetoric. Simply put, he needs to rein in the Turkish dictator.
Last December, for example, Erdogan publicly stated that Jews in Israel kick people when they lie on the floor, and that Jews kick not only men but women and children as well.
Muslims, the Turkish leader said, will confront the Jews “if they have the courage to deal with us, and we will teach them a lesson.”
In July, he said that whoever is on the side of Israel, let them know that we are against them.
“We do not approve of silence on the state terror that Israel blatantly carries out in Palestine,” Erdogan told senior provincial officials from the ruling AKP party in Ankara.
This is not how an ally of the United States should speak about another ally of the US, especially when considering the challenges the entire world is currently facing in the Middle East.
Trump needs to confront Erdogan and demand that he change his policies not just in Syria and vis-à-vis Israel, but also when it comes to domestic issues like his treatment of journalists. Tens of thousands of people including over 200 journalists have been detained in recent years, ever since the alleged coup attempt that Erdogan’s government blames on Fethullah Gulen, the outlawed Turkish cleric.
While Trump seems to have an affinity for Erdogan, he needs to take steps to ensure that Turkey stops its slide to Islamic extremism. This includes ensuring that the sanctions bill currently sitting with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee proceeds even though Erdogan will be in Washington. It includes maintaining the ban on selling the advanced fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighter jet to Turkey, as was decided after Ankara bought and took delivery in July of Russian S-400 missile defense systems.
The purpose of all of this would be to make Turkey and specifically Erdogan decide what side of the fight he wants to be on.
Does he want to continue aligning himself with the likes of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani, or does he want to lead his country and people closer to the West, paving the way for what was once a Turkish dream: to join the European Union. Nowadays that too sounds like a distant memory.
The same can be said about his country’s relationship with Israel. Until 10 years ago, Israeli-Turkish military ties were maintained at the most intimate level. Israeli Air Force jets regularly flew training missions in Turkish airspace, and there were almost no weapon systems that Israel developed that it wasn’t willing to sell its ally to the North.
Trump should pressure Erdogan to change his attitude and rhetoric. The Turkish dictator needs to be forced to make a decision.
source: Jerusalem Post