With a general election coming up in about a year's time, the AKP now faces a resurgent Islamist right that has gained renewed political clout because of the flotilla incident. Meanwhile, a reformed secularist opposition with new leadership is promising to go after the government where it is most vulnerable: over issues such as unemployment and corruption. As a result, the AKP could find it expedient to continue turning the heat up on the Israel front, taking an increasingly more populist line on the issue.
"This is now going to be part and parcel in the internal tug of war between the AKP and the other political parties in Turkey," says Gencer Ozcan, a professor of international relations at Istanbul Bilgi University. "In this case, [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan is not going to defuse the tension."
Speaking on Sunday, Erdogan already went after Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the new leader of the Republican People's Party, the main secularist opposition party, for his approach to the flotilla incident. "Some people speak in the name of Tel Aviv, advocate for Tel Aviv," Erdogan said. "They question our way of diplomacy."
But beyond electioneering, increased tension with Israel could also help the AKP make further gains in its ongoing effort to reduce the Turkish military's control over the state. As Israeli researcher and Turkey expert Anat Lapidot-Firilla recently put it, such an approach would emphasize "the support of the defense establishment and the Kemalist bureaucracy to immoral Israel and the lack of interest in the fate of their Muslim brethren in Palestine."
You can read the full briefing here.
In a Today's Zaman column from the other day, Yavuz Baydar also touches on the domestic aspect of the AKP government's response to the flotilla incident. Meanwhile, Milliyet foreign affairs columnist Semih Idiz has a good piece in today's Hurriyet Daily News where he looks at some of the domestic questions that the recent events raise for Turkey, particularly regarding how a group like the IHH (a "Governmental Non-Governmental Organization" as he puts it) came to commandeer Turkish foreign and domestic policy over the last few days. From his column:
As for the Turkish side, there are equally – if not more – serious questions to be asked and we are happy to see that they are slowly but surely surfacing now. The most important of these questions must of course be this: How can such a large country as Turkey with interests in four continents, and with an export and investment driven economy requiring extra caution all around the globe be dragged to the brink of war by a nongovernmental organization?
To many in and outside Turkey, the answer seems to be simple. This happened because the NGO in question is what a friend humorously referred to as a “GNGO,” in other words a “governmental-non-governmental-organization.” While there may not be any evidence of a direct link here, there can be no mistake that the Erdoğan government is morally and politically behind this group – the İHH – that has now gained international fame according to some, and notoriety according to others.
Neither is this the first instance of this group putting Turkey in a difficult situation diplomatically after it was aided and abetted by the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP. It will be recalled that the same group tried to force its way through the sealed off Rafah gate between Egypt and Gaza some months ago, only to end up clashing with Egyptian forces and straining ties between Ankara and Cairo.
It was telling then that one of the leading “activists” on the Turkish side in that event was Murat Mercan, a key AKP figure, a parliamentary deputy and the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Parliament. Turkish-Egyptian ties are still recovering from what happened at that time. But it is clear that the latest events in the Eastern Mediterranean were watched closely in Cairo too, where there must have been further displeasure among the leadership over Prime Minister Erdoğan’s agitation of Arab streets.
As for the images from Turkey that were reflected across the globe following last week’s incident, it was a purely Islamic one, with headscarved and turbaned protestors chanting Islamic slogans under Islamic banners, and invoking the name of Allah for days on end in front of Israeli missions in this country. Certain remarks by Prime Minister Erdoğan, on the other hand, only went to reinforce this impression, especially when he told a visibly Islamic crowd in Konya a few days ago that Hamas was not a terrorist organization.
It was inevitable then that all of this should have started to turn the tide in the Western media against Turkey, as is apparent from a number of commentaries that have appeared over the past few days. If one considers that there is still an Iran crisis that has to be played out between Turkey and the West and particularly between Turkey and the U.S., it is clear that this impression is only going to crystallize further in the coming days and weeks in ways that Foreign Minister Davutoglu would obviously not want to see.
Put in a nutshell, the sympathy that Turkey initially garnered as a result of the lethal way that Israel conducted this operation is set to evaporate in the West if the AKP government does not begin to chart a more balanced course on Iran and Hamas, a course which is more in keeping with the country’s international commitments as a NATO ally.
It’s all very well for Turkish officials to shower Israel and the Netanyahu government with negative adjectives, no doubt most of them deserved in this case. But Turkey has to tread cautiously in such matters because of a host of reasons to do with its own long term interests. It also goes without saying that Israel cannot afford to squander its longstanding ties with Turkey, no matter what the anger in that country may be toward the Erdoğan government.
Full column here.