‘Turkey has a very special place in my heart and special relationship with Israel… Turkey can bridge the gaps between us and our neighbors and help promote normalization and coexistence in the region” – Trade and Industry Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer in Turkey last week.
No wonder Rahat Lokum, that delectable Istanbuli confection marketed since the 19th century as Turkish Delight, conquered Europe without any resistance. If anything, there was willing cheerful surrender to the jelly-like starchy cubes, flavored with rose water and nuts and liberally dusted with icing sugar. There’s an unquestionable exotic whiff to these pale-pink mouthfuls, accentuated by repeated suggestions that they are an addictive pleasure (to which, for instance, the untrustworthy Edmund succumbs in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe).
The soft candy is almost emblematic of the land in which it originated. Of all the world’s Muslim powers, Turkey appears the most accessible. A negligible corner of it even protrudes into what’s arbitrarily defined as Europe. The founder of its post-World War I republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, seemed to transform the abolished Ottoman sultanate with political, cultural, social, economic and legal reforms. Despite the occasional resort to military coups to protect its threatened secular quasi-democracy, Turkey became a NATO stalwart and for decades held radical Islam at bay.
It’s enticing to relish this political confection, smacking with traces of alien seduction, even if excessive indulgence guarantees indigestion.
Bigger players on the international arena have very realpolitik motives to suck up to Turkey. For Israel the attraction is overpowering. An outcast in its neighborhood, Israel yearns for Muslim friends. It fell headlong for the vision of the region’s non-Arabs banding together in a comradeship of self-preservation. This made particular sense in the heyday of nationalist pan-Arabism. It was bound to erode as jihadist fervor supplanted nationalist zeal, and Arabs could theoretically welcome Iran and Turkey into their club rather than shun their coreligionists as rank outsiders.
We know the way Iran went. We lost what we trusted was a bosom ally in Teheran. But Turkey, obstinately maintained in our midst by both academics and intelligence pundits, is a whole other story because its eyes are set westward and it covets EU membership.
It’s sweet supposition, like Turkish delight and addictive too.
THEREFROM SPRANG the sugar-coated “strategic alliance” with Ankara, in the framework of which Israel supplied Turkey with sophisticated weaponry, among other security-oriented and less-publicized services. The wishful thinking was that even 2002’s electoral victory of a religious Muslim party won’t impel Turkey to follow in Iran’s footsteps. Turkey after all is a strategic ally.
That, at least, was what we sweetly whispered to ourselves. It was comforting, like Turkish Delight – until Turkey vetoed Israeli participation in a joint NATO drill within its borders.
That slap-in-the-face evidently stunned our powers-that-be, who professed “sudden shock” at the “unexpected” turn of events. Nevertheless chatty know-it-all experts continued pouring heaps of sugar on the surprisingly bitter lokum.
But Turkey lost no opportunity to hector that we’d have to go cold-turkey on Turkish Delight. It demonstratively hypes its new-found fellowship with Iran and Syria. Its head honchos routinely unleash virulent anti-Israel invective. Turkish state-run TV broadcast a libelous anti-Israeli drama, Ayrilik, which portrayed IDF soldiers callously shooting Arab children, among other bogus homicidal atrocities. Turkish Delight is now unpalatable.
But cold turkey wasn’t unavoidable. This shouldn’t have been a startling upset. Even given our self-delusion and insatiable hunger for syrupy companionship in a hostile environment, we make a predictably worsening situation a whole lot worse by abject fawning. Turkey’s Islamic leadership plays us for suckers while spurning our misplaced affections.
The most egregious errors were made by prime minister Ehud Olmert and his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni. It boggles the mind, but this duo single-handedly promoted Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the role of a regional super-statesman when initially choosing him, of all unlikely facilitators, to mediate between Israel and Syria.
Intermediaries are altogether a bad idea because inevitably their personal egos get entangled in their mission. Should Israel hesitate to risk its vital interests, despite any go-between’s ambition-driven whims, his prestige might be wounded. This is precisely the disaster we keep courting with Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and it’s the self-inflicted disaster we should have dodged like the dickens with that renowned lover-of-Zion, Erdogan.
Instead of exposing Bashar Assad’s duplicity, Olmert-Livni managed to legitimize him as a “peace partner” and they allowed Erdogan to portray Operation Cast Lead as a personal affront. Erdogan persistently claims he was on the very verge of a breakthrough to restart negotiations with Syria, only just then Israel went and ruined it all by breaching his trust and inconsiderately attacking Gaza. It became all about him and he took umbrage.
The fat was already irretrievably in the fire before Erdogan insolently scolded the dumbstruck Shimon Peres in Davos last January, before the effusively chummy Turkish and Syrian foreign ministers signed military and non-military cooperation treaties in Aleppo recently, before Erdogan hobnobbed with Ahmadinejad and lauded him as “doubtlessly our friend,” before Erdogan outrageously charged that Avigdor Lieberman schemes to nuke Gaza.
There was never sense in unnecessarily involving Turkey in the misguided mediation gambit. Olmert-Livni should have realized that Turkey is hardly a neutral bystander. They blundered spectacularly. Why, however, replicate their fundamental bungle, as Ben-Eliezer obsequiously does? Erdogan is hell-bent on regaining his peace-broker stature and he’d love to mollify Damascus, still embroiled in assorted disputes with Ankara. But need Israel boost Erdogan?
The preposterous upshot of Israeli lust for lokum is that Turkey, of all nations, tongue-lashes us for mass murdering innocents. Ironically, while we never did the evil deed, Turkey’s record is atrocious.
It’s high time we indeed go cold turkey on Turkish delight. Why not answer Erdogan in his own idiom? Why not counter his lies with incontrovertible historical truths? Why, for starters, not quit our unsavory habit of regularly helping Ankara overcome proposed US congressional resolutions on the Armenian genocide?
We could elaborate on Turkey’s first Armenian massacre of 1890 (100,000-200,000 dead); Turkey’s subsequent mega-massacres of 1915 in which hundreds of thousands of Armenians perished in a series of bloodbaths and forced marches of uprooted civilians in Syria’s direction; the World War I slaughter of tens of thousands of Assyrians in Turkey’s southeast; the ethnic cleansing, aerial bombardments and other operations that cost Kurds untold thousands of lives throughout the 20th century and beyond and still deny them the sovereignty they deserve (eminently more than Palestinians); and finally the 1975 invasion and continued occupation of northern Cyprus (which incredibly fails to bother the international community).
What are we afraid of? Losing our Turkish Delight fix? There are no more Turkish Delights on offer. Those which still tempt us exist only in the fevered imaginations of incurable junkies, like Ben-Eliezer.