[Gog-Magog gets closer by the day]
Less than a year ago, Turkey and Israel agreed to end their six-year-long diplomatic stand-off and officially "normalized" their relations. They appointed ambassadors Kemal Okem to Israel and Eitan Na'eh to Turkey, two prominent career diplomats, who, since then, have been struggling actually to normalize formally normalized ties. As some observers, including your humble correspondent, cautioned in 2016:
"Erdogan had pragmatically agreed to shake hands with Israel, but his ideological hostility to the Jewish state and his ideological love affair with Hamas have not disappeared; so the Turkish-Israeli 'peace' would not be easy to sustain".
Only half a year into the "normalized charter" Erdogan in May pledged that his government would work with the Palestinian people to guard against the "Judiazation of Jerusalem." This may be vintage Erdogan. The Turkish president's promise was not too different from a call for a struggle to guard against the "Catholicization of the Vatican."
It is elementary history that Jerusalem's pre-Islamic period of 3300-1000 BCE appeared in the book of Genesis -- the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob -- when Erdogan's ancestors were probably hunters in the steppes of Central Asia. The years 1000-732 BCE marked the period of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Simply put, Jerusalem's Judaic history dates back to thousands of years before the birth of Islam.
Nevertheless, according to Erdogan, there is a necessity "to protect-against the Judaization of Jerusalem." Erdogan, in his May speech, also repeated an earlier call for Muslims from around the world to "visit al-Aqsa" mosque, located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. "As a Muslim community, we need to visit al-Aqsa Mosque often," he said. "Each day that Jerusalem is under occupation is an insult to us."
In 2016, a total of 26,000 Turks visited al-Aqsa Mosque (out of a population of 80 million). Erdogan also said he wants "hundreds of thousands of Muslims" at the Muslim holy site in his campaign to "flood Jerusalem [with Muslims] and drive out the occupiers".
During the reconciliation with Israel, Ankara pledged to end its support for Hamas; Turkey even expelled Saleh al-Arouri, the most senior Hamas official then residing in the country. But ultimately, there were reports that Erdogan was not really willing to live up to his end of the bargain. The journalist Yoav Zitun wrote in Ynet News:
Hamas' presence in Turkey continues despite the departure of Saleh al-Arouri, who headed Hamas in Turkey before leaving the country following Israeli demands during the reconciliation negotiations.
His successors are recruiting Palestinian students to study in Muslim countries in general and Turkey in particular. The students are then sent for military training in Lebanon or Syria, and from there, return to the West Bank to carry out attacks against Israel.
Turkish money flowing into the hands of men who are committed to the annihilation of Israel is part of ideology, not humanitarian aid.
Trying to brand itself as the international savior of the Islamist cause, Turkey has, since 2004, invested millions of dollars into 63 different projects designed to "defend and strengthen the Muslim heritage and character of Jerusalem." The money is often channeled through a government agency, the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA).
In these efforts to "defend and strengthen Jerusalem's Muslim heritage and character" Turkey also partnered with Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, and with Sheikh Akram Sabri, a former mufti of Jerusalem. Both men oppose to Israel's right to exist.
As an American friend delicately asked: "Isn't Turkey supposed to be investing millions to help rebuild Gaza?"
Turkey has agreed to pay $2.5 billion to acquire S-400 – the Russia-made most advanced long-range missile defense system in the world. Russian President Vladimir Putin has already said that Moscow is ready to sell it. According to Russian Presidential Adviser for Military and Technical Cooperation Vladimir Kozhin, Russia’s contract with Turkey has been agreed in general, with financial details still to be ironed out. The system is capable of intercepting all types of modern air weaponry, including fifth-generation warplanes, as well as ballistic and cruise missiles at a maximum range of nearly 250 miles.
According to the preliminary agreement, Ankara is to receive two S-400 missile batteries within the next year, and then produce another two inside Turkey, although the Turkish defense industry has no experience of producing such systems. Not yet.
Unlike NATO’s US-made Patriots temporarily deployed in Turkey some time ago, the Russian S-400 deal has no political strings attached, and could, potentially, boost Turkey’s defense industry bringing Russian-Turkish military cooperation to an unprecedented level. The two nations will work together for many years and the process is likely to encompass other areas of interaction.
Last year, Russia and Turkey signed a declaration on partnership in defense industry. The parties agreed to form a joint military and intelligence mechanism to coordinate their activities in the Middle East. Ankara also seeks procurement deals with Russia in electronic systems, ammunitions and missile technology.
In 2013, Turkey wanted to purchase the HQ-9 long-range air defense system from China but had to scupper the deal in 2015 due to political pressure from NATO allies. Not this time. The pressure is there but Turkey stands tall - it wants the best and the best is S-400. Today, the Turkish government is pursuing a more independent policy while its ties with NATO, the EU and the US are getting increasingly strained.
The deal is a clear shift of Turkey away from NATO and the West. The system won’t be compatible with the rest of the alliance for the purposes of integration. In March, 2017, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, «Being a NATO member does not mean we are not independent. We can have close ties with Russia while performing our responsibilities toward NATO. We find objections on this matter inappropriate».
Turkey has been angered by what it sees as lukewarm condemnation by its Western allies of the abortive July 2016 putsch against President Tayyip Erdogan. Ankara suspected that the West had a role to play. Russia was the first country to be visited by the Turkish president after the failed coup.
Russia and Turkey lead the management crisis process in Syria. With the Islamic State (IS) retreating everywhere, the time draws nearer when Russia and Turkey will face the question about what to do next. It could be the start of forming a broader alliance.
If the coordination of efforts in Syria is successful, the lucrative prospect in bilateral trade, mutual investment, tourism and the Turkish Steam gas project will provide a powerful impetus to the development of relationship.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the first statement about the possibility of Turkey’s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as far back as 2013. In 2016, he repeated it again, saying «Some may criticize me but I express my opinion. For example, I have said ‘why shouldn’t Turkey be in the Shanghai 5?» Turkey was granted dialogue partner status in the SCO in 2012. This year, Ankara chairs the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Energy Club. The SCO’s clout is rapidly increasing in the world. The accession would bring economic benefits for Turkey.
Ankara is also showing increasing interest in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). It was invited to join the organization in 2014. Many of the present and potential members of the EAEU are countries with whom Turkey already has close relations in many fields.
Ankara is also getting closer to Beijing. The two countries are closely cooperating to implement China’s the One Belt One Road project. Turkey is again taking the position as a key investment and cooperation partner that will help bridge the East and the West.
Turkey’s gradual shift from the West to Eurasia and other partners is part of a broader process as the West gets weakened, divided and less attractive. The very notion of «Western unity» is fading away. Unsurprisingly, as its relations with the West sour, Turkey is reaching out to other poles of power. The S-400 deal conforms to the trend.
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