Erdogan Is No Turkish Obama

What matters is not only what he said in Egypt, but also what he didn't say.

People who expected to see a show featuring a Turkish Obama, a new Ottoman sultan or a military leader declaring the next war against Israel, should demand their money back.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who arrived in Cairo with a huge entourage - 280 business people, ministers and advisers - signed trade agreements with Egypt, declared his full support for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and roundly slammed Israel for "not knowing how to talk peace."

Palestinian schoolboys in Gaza hold flag of Recep Tayyip Erdogan  - AP - September 13, 2011

Erdogan made two public appearences yesterday. One before the foreign ministers of the Arab League and the other at a short press conference, which had been planned to be an address to the Arab nation but shrank to a few questions.

At both, Israel starred as the greatest opponent of peace in the region. Erdogan mentioned the nine Turkish civilians killed aboard the Mavi Marmara during last year's flotilla to Gaza, and also the five Egyptians killed during a terror attack near Eilat last month.

"The barrier to peace in the region is the mentality of the Israeli government," Erdogan also said.

Erdogan did not mention the sanctions Turkey had imposed on Israel and reiterated Turkey's conditions for normalizing ties between the two countries: lifting the blockade of Gaza and an apology and compensation to the families of the nine Turkish citizens killed when Israeli commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara.

Erdogan called countries "which are not working to lift the blockade on Gaza," "partners to this crime." Erdogan was alluding to European countries and to the United States, which he denounced a few days ago for ignoring the killing of Turkish citizens. He also alluded to Arab countries that he said were not working to lift the blockade.

Erdogan also said the establishment of a Palestinian state was "not an option but a necessity."

Despite the frequent applause by the Arab League foreign ministers, some faces must have blanched when Erdogan said: "The Turks and the Arabs are linked by brotherhood for hundreds of years. We share the same culture and the same faith ..."

Collective memory in Arab countries has not forgotten Ottoman rule, which is blamed for the backwardness of the Arab world. An Ottoman sultanate or modern Turkey are not quite what the protesters in Tahrir Square longed for. That might be the reason that Al Jazeera twice interrupted the broadcast of Erdogan's speech.

Just as important as what Erdogan said is what he did not say. He did not close the door on rehabilitating relations with Israel. He did not delineate Turkey's intentions with regard to protecting freedom of movement in the Mediterranean. He did not boast about expelling the Israeli ambassador nor did he pour salt on Egypt's wounds over the attack on Israel's Cairo embassy.

Still, it would be a mistake to focus on rating Erdogan's visit to Egypt or Turkey's importance in the region. Israel should rather focus on its "personal" matter with Turkey, which it still has to resolve.