Turkish Foreign Policymaker: Iran Poses Threat to Turkey

'I don't think a military option against Iran will work,' said one of Turkey's most influential politicians.

"I don't think that a military option against Iran will work," visiting Turkish politician, Murat Mercan, told Haaretz on Sunday. "Sanctions against Iran will be effective if they are applied efficiently. But the truth is, I don't know whether it is realistic to expect full sanctions when countries are still prepared to veto these sanctions."

Mercan is visiting Israel, not for the first time, as a guest of the Shalem Center's Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies, headed by former minister, Natan Sharansky. Mercan, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), is one of Turkey's most influential foreign policymakers. He chairs the Turkish Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, is a close adviser of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and served in the past as AKP deputy chairman.

He said on Sunday that Turkey believes the entire region should be free of nuclear weapons.

"Israel too?" he was asked.

"I wish Israel would not feel threatened; then it, too, could disarm from nuclear weapons," was his circuitous answer, which allowed him to refrain from commenting directly on whether Israel should disarm. He immediately added that Israel was not the only country that felt threatened by Iran's nuclear plans. "Iran is first and foremost a threat to us," he said. But the feeling of being vulnerable did not prevent Turkey from recently signing a memorandum of understanding with Iran to develop gas fields in southern Iran, not to mention that it still maintains its extensive commercial ties to Tehran.

"We are not diverging from the policy of sanctions," Mercan explained, "because a memorandum of understanding does not mean that anything has actually been done. In general, Turkey will not deviate from any policy that is accepted by the United Nations Security Council with regard to Iran." After a short pause, he added: "You can't expect Turkey to do more than other countries with regard to cooperation with Iran." These remarks were directed primarily at Germany and Switzerland, which have signed major trade agreements with Iran. Two weeks ago, Turkey offered to serve as a mediator between Iran and the new U.S. administration; the Iranian response to the proposal was favorable. "But now we are awaiting Obama's entry to the White House," he said. "Before that, I don't think there is anything that can, or should, be done."

Turkish President Abdullah Gul is due in Israel in January for a three-day state visit. Several joint policies regarding Iran and Syria are expected to be proposed, despite the fact that it is not clear who the Israeli decision makers will be after the elections. With regard to Syria, Mercan believes that until Obama takes over and until the results of the Israeli elections become clear, any indirect talks with Syria, that were promoted by Turkey, should not be expected. "The next stage is direct dialogue between the sides and that is what we are working on," he said. "But a dialogue of this kind will have to wait until after the elections."

"Dialogue" is the key word defining the fronts in which Turkey is involved - whether Iran, Syria or Hamas. Turkey received Hamas with open arms, but was harshly criticized for its actions; as such, Mercan now employs diplomatic caution regarding the group.

"Yes, any attack on civilians is terror," he said with regard to the attacks from the Gaza Strip on Sderot. "I visited Sderot, and I saw how its residents were being attacked, but I also know the tragedy and sorrow in Gaza well. I advise Hamas to stop attacking civilians and propose that Israel stop imposing sanctions on Gaza. After all, how is it possible to imagine the two nations living side by side if each causes the other to suffer tragedies?"

A few weeks ago, Hamas considered turning to Turkey to mediate with Israel over abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier, Gilad Shalit, the release of Palestinian prisoners and the opening of the border crossings, but it seems that Turkey has decided to leave this work in the hands of the Egyptians.

Nevertheless, there is one subject about which Mercan is prepared to speak directly and without diplomatic lingo. "It is forbidden to endanger the ties with Turkey on a subject that should not be discussed by the parliaments but by the historians," he said. He is referring to the definition of the deaths of the Armenians in 1915 as a genocide.

Custom or law?

Mercan was personally in touch at the time with Knesset members to persuade them to abandon the issue. Now he is waiting to see what President Barack Obama's position will be; Obama promised to recognize the event as genocide of the Armenians.

The veil worn by observant Muslim women is once again stirring anger in Egypt over its religious function. Is it a duty or an option? The radical organizations offer all the suitable quotations from the Koran and the important adjudicators to "prove" that Mohammed literally meant for every woman to hide her face and hands, and not to make do merely with a head covering. They believe that the eyes are the gate to the woman's soul and therefore need to be hidden. On the other hand, the sages belonging to the centrist stream of Islam believe that the veil does not appear in any of the precepts of Islam and that, at most, this is a custom which must be permitted. But of course, as usual, this is not a purely religious-legal argument aimed at fixing the way in which Muslim must women appear in public. The argument is political.

At a time when the Egyptian government is investing vast efforts to uproot religious fanaticism and is not merely making do with the arrests of members of the Muslim Brotherhood organization, but is banning women with veils from appearing as announcers on TV programs and postponing the appointment of women as religious instructors because they wear veils, the following initiative is merely the next obvious step on the way to the religious de-legitimization of the veil.

With this, I refer to a new book being published by Egypt's Wakf Ministry, written by cabinet minister, Mohammed Hamdi, who is a religious sage and religious law analyst. In the book, he "proves" through signs and omens that wearing a veil is not a religious edict but rather a custom, and as such it enjoys a lower status; with this, it will soon be possible to call for the custom to be uprooted altogether. The co-authors of the book, which will be distributed to all the imams in Egypt's 140,000 mosques, include the head of the Al-Azhar Mosque, the most important religious institution in Egypt, and the mufti of Egypt. Hamdi explained that the veil is not merely the result of a radical religious point of view, it even creates it.