Articles, Opinions & Views: Erdogan Antagonizes His ‘Arab Brothers’ By Hugh Fitzgerald

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Erdogan Antagonizes His ‘Arab Brothers’ By Hugh Fitzgerald
Sunday, October 25, 2020

Jihad Watch : Burak Bekdil is a brave and humorful Turkish journalist who dares, while living in Ankara, to highlight the political follies of President Erdogan in articles he writes for foreign websites. A recent column of interest from him is here.

Neither the Ottoman nor the modern Turkish language has ever been short of racist proverbs denigrating Arabs and their culture. No more, said Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Islamist leader who has been at the helm in Turkey since 2002. He made it a habit to publicly refer to Arabs, including his then regional nemesis Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, as “my Arab brothers.” His goal was to build a Muslim-Arab pact, a modern umma under Turkish leadership as in Ottoman times, to challenge Israel in the region and, more broadly, Western civilization.

Remember the plan Erdogan had had published in his favorite newspaper, Yeni Safak, on December 12, 2017, which laid out the case for the creation of a pan-Islamic army that would pool its men and materiel in order to wipe out the state of Israel. It was apparently written by Erdogan’s senior advisor on military affairs, retired general Adnan Tanrıverdi.

The title of the piece was “A Call for Urgent Action,” which also appeared on the paper’s website under the title “What If an Army of Islam Was Formed against Israel?” The article called on the 57 member states of the OIC to form a joint “Army of Islam” to besiege and attack the state of Israel.

It was clear that Erdogan assumed Turkey would be the leader of this effort, one more example of the Turkish leader’s neo-Ottoman dreams of again dominating the Muslim world. But the response from the Arab world was not enthusiasm, but total silence. The Arabs remember how their ancestors were mistreated by their Ottoman masters, and have no intention of enrolling in any campaign being directed by Turkey, with Ankara positioning itself as again the leader of the umma. And they are well aware of the constant drumbeat of anti-Arab articles in the Turkish media.

Erdogan has made attempts at wooing the Arabs, but it hasn’t worked out.

Burak Bekdil continues:

In 2010, Turkey’s state broadcaster TRT even launched an Arabic language channel, TRT Arabi. Sadly for Erdogan, his attempt to fuse Islam and anti-Zionism seems to have fallen apart.

Turkish diplomats officially said the recent normalization deal between the UAE and Israel meant Abu Dhabi was betraying the “Palestinian cause.” This response from Ankara looked ridiculous, as it appeared to have forgotten that Turkey itself has had diplomatic relations with Israel since 1949. Turkish Islamists apparently do not care about looking ridiculous.

Apparently Erdogan thought everyone would overlook Turkey’s own diplomatic relations with Israel for more than 70 years. He could have claimed that those relations established with Israel were the result of the secular Kemalists then in power in Ankara, and that he, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has undertaken to undo Kemalism, was now cutting off all ties with Israel, but he did no such thing. Turkey benefits greatly both from trade with Israel, despite the political bad blood, and from the nearly half-million Israeli tourists who, pre-pandemic, visited the country every year. He’s a great believer in “what’s sauce for the Turkish goose is not sauce for the Emirati gander” – Turkey can keep its relations with Israel, but if the UAE normalizes its own relations with the Jewish state, that constitutes an intolerable betrayal of the Palestinians.

In its September 10 edition, Yeni Akit, a staunchly pro-Erdogan and Islamist militant newspaper, said the “Saudis were competing with the UAE in treason [against the ‘Palestinian cause’].” Yeni Akit was referring to the decision by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, in a landmark change of policy, to allow all flights to and from Israel to use their airspace. The trouble with that criticism is that there too, Israel is one of the 138 countries with which Turkey has mutual accords for the use of airspace.

According to this logic, diplomatic relations with Israel and flights using the airspace of both countries are privileges that should be accorded to one Muslim country alone: Turkey. If other Muslim countries sign identical accords with Israel, it’s treason.

Burak Bekdil shows up Erdogan yet again. Saudi Arabia was raked over the coals for engaging in “treason” (against the Palestinians) in another paper staunchly loyal to Erdogan, Yeni Akit. Its capital crime was allowing Israeli planes to use Saudi airspace. But for decades Israel has been allowed to use Turkish airspace. Why didn’t the editors of Yeni Akit at least suggest that it was now time to withdraw that permission, closing off Turkish airspace to Israeli planes? Were they afraid Turkey might lose Israeli tourist dollars? To what heights of hypocrisy are Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his followers willing to go?

This rhetoric reflects Turkey’s increasing loneliness in the Muslim/Arab world (with the sole exception of Qatar) after several years of loneliness within the NATO alliance. Turkey can thus claim the bizarre title: “Odd man out in both NATO and the Muslim world.” This state of affairs has been coming on for years, but Erdogan has stubbornly refused to recalibrate his policy.

Turkey is indeed an odd man out in NATO. Erdogan has not been kind to fellow NATO members. He called the Germans “Nazis” for not allowing his party to campaign for votes among Turks now living in Germany. He has called the Austrians “Nazis” for shutting down some extremist mosques and expelling their imams. He has ignored American pleas and gone ahead with his plans to buy the Russian S-400 anti-missile defense system. He set out a plan for the umma to field a pan-Islamic army to destroy Israel. He told Macron “don’t mess with Turkey” when the French President criticized Turkish maritime claims. He has predicted a coming war between the “crescent and the cross,” leaving no doubt as to which side he would be on, against all his fellow NATO members. He has been blackmailing the Western countries, demanding billions of dollars not to carry out his threat to send millions of Muslim economic migrants into Europe, but instead to hold them back. He has threatened to make war on another member of NATO, Greece, over maritime rights. Turkish vessels have been searching for undersea natural gas deposits in the territorial waters of both Greece and Cyprus. Erdogan is a supporter of the terror group Hamas; he has even given dozens of Hamas leaders Turkish citizenship. He is more than an odd man out in NATO; he’s an enemy within, and ought years ago to have been booted from the organization. There’s no time like the present.

As for his being the odd man out in the Muslim world, his Ottoman pretensions to lead that world make his fellow Muslims distinctly uneasy. The Arabs, in particular, see how he has deployed Turkish troops in three Arab states – Libya, Syria, and Iraq – and shows no signs of pulling back; this fills them with alarm. After the Turkish troops entered northeast Syria, an emergency meeting of the Arab League was called by Egypt on the incursion. The Arab League lambasted Turkey’s operation as an “invasion of an Arab state’s land and an aggression on its sovereignty” and threatened Ankara with economic sanctions. However, the permanently pugnacious President Erdogan rejected the AL’s criticism of the Turkish operation, singling out in particular Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

In Libya, Erdogan has sent Turkish troops, as well as 7,000 Syrian mercenaries whom Ankara is paying to fight on the side of Fayez Al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA). But in return, Erdogan has demanded that Libya grant Turkey permanent rights to a naval base at Misrata (Erdogan wants everyone to know that one-third of Misrata’s population consist of “Turkish Libyans” who arrived over the last century and settled in that city), and give the Turkish Air Force the right to use the airbase at Watiya. He clearly is planning on staying in Libya for a long time.

The same is true in Syria, where Turkish forces first entered to push the Kurdish PKK back from the border. But having accomplished that, Erdogan has now decided that his troops will remain in northeast Syria until, he said, there is “freedom.” By that he meant “until Assad is deposed,” but since Assad appears to have largely won his civil war, the Turkish troops may be there for a very long time.

In northern Iraq, Turkish planes are now bombing Kurds, whom they claim are members of the “terrorist” PKK. It’s unclear how many of those being targeted do, in truth, belong to that group, how many belong to the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protective Units), which – outside of Turkey – is not regarded as a terrorist group, and how many are simply Kurdish civilians. Here again, Erdogan sounds as if he has no intention of leaving until he has totally defeated the Kurds, and driven them away from the border and farther into southern Kurdistan.

In early 2019, six nations, including the Palestinian Authority (Erdogan’s ideological next of kin), agreed to found the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum. At a July 2019 meeting in Cairo, the energy ministers of Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy, and the PA, as well as a representative of the energy minister of Jordan, said they would form a committee to elevate the Forum to the level of an international organization that respects the rights of its members to their natural resources. Erdogan privately felt betrayed by this act of treason from his “Palestinian brothers,” comforting himself that the traitors were not members of his beloved Hamas.

Those nations joined the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum because they have been alarmed by Turkish moves to claim more maritime territory than is recognized in international law. Turkish research vessels have been exploring for undersea natural gas deposits in the maritime territories of Greece and Cyprus. Ankara has made a deal with Libya’s GNA for both Libya and Turkey to extend their maritime claims in such a way that they will together cover much of the eastern Mediterranean. Turkish ships have chased away an Israeli vessel that had been searching for undersea gas deposits in Cypriot waters. The Turks even talk about interfering with the planned East Med pipeline that is to take natural gas from Israel’s giant Leviathan and Tamar fields, and then with additional gas connected to the pipeline from Cyprus and Greece, to deliver that natural gas to Italy and the greater European market. In violating international law by claiming an enormous maritime territory in the eastern Mediterranean, in harassing the research vessels of other nations, and doing its own research for undersea natural gas deposits in the territorial waters of Cyprus and Greece, Turkey has managed in the eastern Mediterranean to earn the enmity of Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Italy, and even the Palestinian Authority, that has its own undersea claims to make just off Gaza.

In October 2019, the Arab League condemned Turkey’s cross-border military operation in northeast Syria as an “invasion of an Arab state’s land and an aggression on its sovereignty.” The League would consider taking measures against Turkey in the economic, investment, and cultural sectors, including tourism and military cooperation. It also called on the UN Security Council to “take the necessary measures to stop the Turkish aggression and [enforce] the withdrawal from Syrian territory immediately.” To Ankara’s deep embarrassment, its closest regional ally, Qatar, did not block the League’s communique condemning Turkey.

Et tu, Qatar? Not even Doha was willing in October 2019 to stand up and be counted on Turkey’s side; it refused to block the Arab League condemnation of Turkish aggression in northeast Syria. The other Arab states may all be firmly opposed to Assad, but they nonetheless prefer that Assad’s Arabs be left alone by Erdogan’s Turks; the fear and hatred of the Ottomans continues to shape Arab views of the Turks today. And their worst fears are being confirmed by the words and actions of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey’s reaction was characteristically childish. Fahrettin Altun, Erdogan’s communications director, said the “Arab League do not speak for the Arab world.” An angry Erdogan said, “All of you [Arab nations] won’t make one Turkey.” That’s quite a drift from his “our Arab brothers” rhetoric….

The Turkish case is not helped by such examples as Fahrettin Altun’s preposterous claim that the “Arab League do [sic] not speak for the Arab world.” If the Arab League doesn’t speak for the Arabs, then who does? Nor was Ankara helped by that display of Turkish contempt for the Arabs, when an angered Erdogan dismissed the Arab states thus: “All of you [Arab nations] won’t make one Turkey.”

As worry over, and animosity toward, Israel decreases among the Arabs, because several of them – the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt – have clearly seen the benefits of cooperation with Israel in security matters, especially In dealing with the threat of Iran and its attempts to construct a “Shi’a crescent” from Yemen through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon, Arab worry over, and animosity toward, Turkey and Erdogan have steadily increased. It has all been Erdogan’s doing. He needn’t have bruited about a grand plan to have Turkey reassert its primacy as the rightful descendant of the Ottomans, leading a pan-Islamic army against Israel; that got him nowhere with the Arab states, none of which even bothered to reply to what Erdogan thought would win him plaudits.

By establishing Turkish military outposts in Libya, Syria, and Iraq, and letting it be known that the Turkish fighters will not be leaving any time soon, Erdogan fans the flames of anti-Turk hatred among the Arabs. Erdogan’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, and for its Palestinian branch, the terror group Hamas (as noted above, Erdogan has offered Turkish citizenship, and passports, to Hamas’ top brass) enrages both the Gulf Arab monarchies – especially Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain — and Egypt’s El-Sisi, all of whom see the MB as a direct threat to their rule. He does himself no good, either, when he heaps scorn on the UAE and Bahrain as “traitors” to the “Palestinian cause”; even those Arabs who are unenthusiastic about the “normalization” moves of the Emirates and Bahrain don’t think Turkey, and its neo-Ottoman padishah grandly issuing orders to his officers in Libya, Syria, and Iraq from his 1,500 room White Palace (Ak Saray), has any right to interfere in what they see as purely Arab affairs. And what Arab would not take offense when Erdogan claims that “all of you [Arab nations] won’t make one Turkey”?

The only Arabs who can even tolerate Turkey at this point are odd-man-out Qatar, that represents only itself, and those Libyans who belong to the GNA that Turkey supports. And even many in the GNA have been dismayed, and angered, at Erdogan’s insistence on establishing permanent Turkish military outposts in Libya, with exclusive use of a naval base at Misrata and joint use, with Libyans, of an airbase at Wizaya. Erdogan has driven a hard bargain with the GNA; the Libyan Arabs did not realize, when they first accepted his military aid, just how hard it would be. Now they appear stuck with the Turkish naval vessels at Misrata and Turkish planes at Wizaya, for what is foreseeably – since this is the Muslim Middle East we are talking about — the unforeseeable future.

posted by Major D Swami (Retired) @ 1:02 PM  
  • At 1:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Good overview of recent grandiose and expansionist moves by Erdogan. You missed out his support of Azerbaijan in ethically cleansing Armenians from their historical lands of Artsakh (like they were cleansed from west Armenia, which is now a part of Turkey), sending Syrian mercenaries there too.

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