Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan conceded yesterday that "there were a few failures in the first 24 hours" of the government's response to the earthquake. But that is not why he suddenly changed his mind and agreed to accept Israel's offer of assistance.
Erdogan is worried about the weeks and months ahead, in which thousands of people in the district of Van will have to live in the open until the thousands of houses destroyed in the earthquake are rebuilt. Temperatures in Van are already near zero, and the high mountains surrounding it are snow-covered.
Moreover, these are not ordinary Turkish citizens, but Kurds.
The leaders of the Peace and Democracy Party, the Kurdish opposition in Turkey's parliament, have already accused a member of Erdogan's party, the governor of the Van district, of not cooperating in rescue efforts and discriminating against Kurds in the distribution of supplies.
Relations between Ankara and the Kurdish minority have been further undermined in recent days by attacks on Turkish army bases launched by the Kurdish PKK, which killed 24 soldiers. In reprisal, the Turkish army mounted another attack against PKK strongholds over the border in Iraq earlier this week, even as it was also conducting a logistical operation to back up the search and rescue work in Van.
The media's focus on the earthquake has completely distracted attention from the fighting in Iraq, but Erdogan understands that while he is sending the army to kill Iraqi Kurdish underground fighters, he cannot allow thousands of Turkish Kurds to freeze in the snow. That would not only hurt him domestically, perhaps even hindering his plan to get a new constitution approved next year, but would also undermine the status of regional leader that he has cultivated since the beginning of the Arab Spring.
The Turkish Red Crescent has already distributed thousands of tents to families whose homes were destroyed, but the demand has apparently outstripped supply, and tents will not withstand the snow. Erdogan must obtain thousands of prefabricated homes, and fast - anything that will provide protection from the snow and allow him to present himself as someone who cares for the Kurds as if they were citizens with equal rights.
For that, he is even willing to set aside national pride and ask for favors from Israel and the European Union.
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