WASHINGTON - As the right-wing leadership of the organized United States Jewish
community defends Israel against international condemnation for its deadly
seizure of a flotilla bearing humanitarian supplies for Gaza, a familiar clutch
of neo-conservative hawks is going on the offensive against what is seen as the
flotilla's chief defender, Turkey.
Outraged by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's repeated denunciations of the
May 31 Israeli raid, as well as his co-sponsorship with Brazil of an agreement
with Iran designed to promote renewed negotiations with the West on Tehran's
nuclear program, some neo-conservatives are even demanding that the US try to
expel Ankara from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as one of
several suggested actions aimed
at punishing Erdogan's AKP (Justice and Development Party) government.
"Turkey, as a member of NATO, is privy to intelligence information having to do
with terrorism and with Iran," noted the latest report by the Jewish Institute
for National Security Affairs (JINSA), a hard-line neo-conservative group that
promotes US-Israeli military ties and has historically cultivated close ties to
Turkey's military, as well.
"If Turkey finds its best friends to be Iran, Hamas, Syria and Brazil (look for
Venezuela in the future) the security of that information (and Western
technology in weapons in Turkey's arsenal) is suspect. The United States should
seriously consider suspending military cooperation with Turkey as a prelude to
removing it from the organization," suggested the group.
Its board of advisers includes many prominent champions of the 2003 Iraq
invasion, including former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, former
Central Intelligence Agency director James Woolsey, and former United Nations
ambassador John Bolton.
Neo-conservative publications, notably the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly
Standard and the National Review, have also been firing away at the AKP
government since the raid.
"Turkey now represents a major element in the global panorama of radical
Islam," declared the Standard's Stephen Schwartz, while Daniel Pipes, the
controversial director of the Likudist Middle East Forum, echoed JINSA's call
for ousting Ankara from NATO and urged Washington to provide direct support for
Turkey's opposition parties in an article published by the National Review
The Journal has been running editorials and op-eds attacking Turkey on
virtually a daily basis since the raid, accusing its government, among other
things, of having "an ingrained hostility toward the Jewish state, remarkable
sympathies for nearby radical regimes, and an attitude toward extremist groups
like the IHH [Insani Yardim Vakfi - the Islamist group that sponsored the
flotilla's flagship, the Mavi Marmara] that borders on complicity."
On Monday, it ran an op-ed by long-time hawk Victor Davis Hanson that labeled
the IHH "a terrorist organization with ties to al-Qaeda", while an earlier
op-ed, by Robert Pollock, its editorial features editor, called Erdogan and his
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu "demagogues appealing to the worst elements in
their own country and the broader Middle East".
Meanwhile, in an op-ed published by The Forward, a Jewish weekly, Michael
Rubin, a Perle protege at the American Enterprise Institute, accused Turkey of
having "become a conduit for the smuggling of weapons to Israel's enemies",
notably Lebanon's Hezbollah.
The onslaught is ironic both because of the neo-conservatives' long cultivation
of Turkey and their avowed support for promoting democratic governance - of
which they have singled out Turkey for special praise - in the Muslim world.
Neo-conservatives were among the most important promoters of the military
alliance between Israel and Turkey that began to take shape in the late 1980s
and consolidated by the mid-1990s.
In fact, Perle and another of his proteges, former under secretary of defense
for policy Douglas Feith, worked as paid lobbyists for Turkey during that
period, in major part to persuade the powerful "Israel Lobby" on Capitol Hill
to promote Ankara's interests on Capitol Hill.
In 1996, the two men participated in a task force chaired by Perle that
proposed to incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he work
with Turkey and Jordan to remove Iraq's Saddam Hussein from power as part of an
alliance designed to transform the strategic balance in the Middle East
permanently in favor of Israel.
But the Turkey promoted by Perle and his fellow-neo-cons in the 1980s and 1990s
was one that was dominated by a secular business and political elite carefully
monitored by an all-powerful military institution that mounted three coup
d'etats between 1960 and 1980 and intervened a fourth time in 1997 to oust an
Despite its close links to both the US and Israel, however, the Turkish
military badly disappointed the neo-cons in the run-up to Washington's invasion
of Iraq in March 2003.
Instead of insisting that the civilian government at the time grant US requests
to use Turkish territory as a major launching pad into northern Iraq, the armed
forces decided to defer to overwhelming parliamentary and public opposition to
"I think for whatever reason they did not play the strong leadership role on
that issue that we would have expected," complained then-deputy secretary of
defense Paul Wolfowitz, a long-time Perle friend and colleague who, despite his
lavish praise of Turkey as a model Muslim democracy, headed repeated efforts by
the George W Bush administration to persuade Turkey's national security council
- where the military's voice was dominant - to effectively overrule its
Erdogan, who became prime minister just a week before the invasion and whose
political and economic reforms have been widely praised in the West, at first
sought good relations with Israel. As late as 2007, he arranged for Shimon
Peres to become the first Israeli president to address the Turkish parliament.
By then, however, many neo-cons had become concerned about Erdogan's efforts to
weaken the military's power, his warm reception of a top Hamas leader in 2005,
criticism of Israel's military campaign against Hezbollah in 2006 and
rapprochement with Syria.
When the military not so subtly threatened to intervene against Erdogan and the
AKP in 2007, some neo-cons, notably Perle, suggested that the US should not try
to discourage it. Others, including the Standard's Schwartz and Pipes,
encouraged it as the lesser of two evils, even as the Journal defended the AKP
as "more democratic than the secularists".
Since Erdogan's furious denunciation of Israel, and Peres personally, at the
Davos World Economic Forum of Israel's Cast Lead operation in Gaza in January
2009, however, neo-cons of virtually all stripes - including those, like the
Journal's editorial writers, who have praised the AKP as a democratizing force
- have turned against Ankara. And the flotilla incident, combined with
Erdogan's perceived defense of Iran's nuclear program, has raised their animus
to new heights.
"A combination of Islamist rule, resentment at exclusion from Europe and a
neo-Ottomanist ideology that envisions Turkey as a great power in the Middle
East have made Turkey a state that is often plainly hostile not only to Israel
but to American aims and interests," wrote Eliot Cohen, professor at Johns
Hopkins University, in a Journal op-ed Monday.
Jim Lobe's blog on US foreign policy can be read at http://www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe/.