Erdogan's Hypocrisy Shouldn't Hurt Israel-Turkey Ties

Given Ankara's own war on terrorism, Turkish PM's tantrum over Gaza shows either his short fuse or short memory.

Dear Miss Manners. No matter how hard I try, everyone is against me. They accuse me of having a secret agenda, of supporting terror organizations in the Middle East and of trying to force women to wear a head covering. All that has a strong effect on my nerves, and sometimes I simply want to explode. But when I explode, the accusations against me only increase. My staff claims that my behavior is childish and unworthy of a statesman. How can I express my emotions without being accused repeatedly of hysterical behavior?"

This passage, from a clever piece by Turkish columnist Nazlan Ertan, which was published in the Hurriyet Daily News, is of course directed at Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who caused an uproar at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Ertan, as Miss Manners, suggests to Erdogan that instead of shouting at elderly statesmen, he would do better to learn from them. "Miss Manners believes that anyone can learn manners, or at least pretend to have learned," wrote Ertan.

And in fact, there is a character trait that every diplomat who arrives in Turkey is briefed about if he has to meet Erdogan: the prime minister's short fuse. Erdogan, who began his career selling lemonade in the town of Rize on Turkey's Black Sea coast, was shocked, like other European leaders, by the pictures of destruction in Gaza and by the numbers of dead and wounded. But as someone who believes that "anger is an art of rhetoric," as he once said, he chose an unconventional way of expressing his.

This is not the first time that Erdogan has shouted at Israeli leaders. About a year and a half ago he screamed at Shimon Peres when he hosted him in Ankara, and before that he called former prime minister Ariel Sharon a "terrorist," and described the deal signed between Turkey and Israel for renovating Turkish tanks as a "disgrace."

We can only console ourselves with the fact that his close aides are also exposed to a great deal of flak from him.

Erdogan has apparently forgotten a dark chapter in Turkish history, and no, we are not referring to the massacre of Armenians in 1915. In the 1990s, Turkey destroyed about 3,500 Kurdish villages in the southeast of the country as part of the long struggle against the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which is classified as a terror organization.

Hundreds of thousands of Kurds were left homeless and were forced to migrate to the large cities. Anyone visiting Istanbul or Ankara can still today see the results of that huge migration. Thousands of apartments that were built virtually overnight in order to house the uprooted population decorate the approaches to those cities, and in the area of Diyarbakir, in the southeast of the country, there is still fear of the Turkish security forces.

In a phone conversation, a senior member of the Kurdish administration in the Kurdistan region also compared the recent Turkish firing of artillery on villages inside Iraqi Kurdistan to "the way you fired into Gaza."

Incidentally, according to Turkish sources, the intelligence regarding the location of the PKK training camps inside Kurdistan was gathered with the help of Israeli drones that Turkey purchased - and continues to purchase - from Israel.

As with the Armenian massacre, Israel bit its tongue when the Kurdish villages were destroyed. The relationship formed at the time with Turkey was more important. Only in off-the-record conversations are Israeli officials willing to express anger and to remind Turkey that it will soon need Israel's help again when in about two months' when the Armenian issue comes up for discussion in the United States Congress.

The enigma of Turkish logic

But this accounting with Turkey is too simple. Israel needs Turkey just as much as Turkey needs Israel. It's not only a matter of Israel Air Force exercises, weapons deals, flourishing tourism, Turkish mediation between Israel and Syria and intelligence cooperation. A unique strategic alliance has developed between the two countries, an alliance that is no longer so dependent on the nature of the governments or the prime ministers serving at any given time in either country.

Turkey is being led at present by a religious party that makes sure to present itself as a social-democratic group and is conducting a nerve-racking dialogue with the army, which considers the party a "fundamentalist danger," in the words of former chief of staff Hilmi Ozkok.

And nevertheless that same "danger," which has excellent commercial ties with Iran and good relations with Hamas and Hezbollah, is the government that prevented the passage to Syria of Iranian transport planes carrying weapons and whose ministers are frequent travelers to and from Israel.

And that same "danger" that did not permit American forces to reach Iraq through its territory in the Second Gulf War, is an ally of the United States and a member of NATO.

Ostensibly, Turkish policy is a tangle of contradictions, but when the country's constitution grants the army the power to preserve the character of the country as a secular country, while over 40 percent of its approximately 70 million citizens vote for a religious party; and when 1 million people demonstrate against Erdogan and the headscarf law, but at the same time millions demonstrate against Israel after seeing Palestinian Muslims being killed in Gaza - it is hard to complain about the political and diplomatic zigzagging.

Israel is an important factor among Turkey's many considerations, but it is only one factor. A proper dialogue between the government and its citizens, between the government and the army, and between the government and its most important ally, the U.S., and all in light of Turkey's aspiration to become a member of the European Union - mark the trail of Turkish logic.