- - Wednesday, May 30, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Only yesterday, Turkey was considered a candidate for membership in the European Union, a reliable friend of the West. Turkey was reasonably modern, forward looking, and Western oriented. Turkey was already a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and membership in the EU would only cement its alliance with the West.

Alas, over the past several years Turkey has devolved from something unique to something close to just another depressing redoubt of Middle Eastern despotism. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, strongly favored to be re-elected president late next month, bears much of the blame and responsibility for such a sorry state of affairs, and for Turkey’s growing estrangement from the Western world that it once looked to for guidance.

Turkey only yesterday enjoyed strong relations with Israel. It was the first Muslim-majority country to establish diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, and for decades Turkey and Israel enjoyed not only strong diplomatic ties, but economic and military relations as well.

But Mr. Erdogan, as befits his Islamist outlook, has shifted Turkey’s relations with Israel to one of hostility. In 2012, Turkey exposed 10 Iranians who had met with officers of the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, in Turkey, a remarkable betrayal of Israel, with which it had long enjoyed cooperative intelligence relations. Mr. Erdogan threatened to cut off diplomatic relations with Israel if the United States recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. So far that hasn’t happened, although Turkey did recall its ambassador to Israel after clashes with Palestinian militants along the Gaza border earlier this spring.

Shoring up campaign support in his Islamist base, Mr. Erdogan has ramped up criticism of Israel. He accused the Israelis of “genocide” against the Palestinians and denounced what he called the “terrorist state of Israel.” Benjamin Netanyahu, he said, “is the PM of an apartheid state that has occupied a defenseless people’s lands for 60-plus years in violation of U.N. resolutions. He has the blood of Palestinians on his hands and can’t cover up crimes by attacking Turkey. Want a lesson in humanity? Read the Ten Commandments.”

Attacking Israel is a convenient diversion from pressing problems at home. The Turkish lira hit a record low last week, and its value has declined by about 20 percent so far this year, impoverishing Turks. Both public and private sectors are heavily indebted, which economists blame for the failing currency. Mr. Erdogan blames a mysterious “conspiracy” for the faltering lira. He implores fortunate Turks who hold dollars and euros to support the currency: “My brothers who have dollars or euros under their pillow,” he implored a campaign rally, “go and convert your money into lira. We will thwart this game together.”

Right out of a Middle Eastern strongman’s playbook, Mr. Erdogan has grown increasingly repressive at home. About 40,000 teachers were fired after a failed coup attempt. Nearly 130,000 Turks in the public and private sectors were sacked over accusations of ties to the Gulenist movement, which Mr. Erdogan blames for the failed attempt to remove him. Such sacking has compounded Turkey’s economic problems. Scores of journalists have been imprisoned, accused of having ties to the Gulenists. Thousands have been purged from the military, and he is trying to curtail access to the Internet.

The turmoil comes as Turkey is scheduled to take delivery of the first of the hundred F-35A stealth fighters that it ordered from the United States. Delivering the F-35s looks less attractive to U.S. interests now. “Turkey,” says Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican, “has gone a long way from being a NATO ally and an important partner in working against terrorism, to the situation today.” From its remarkable place where Europe and Asia meet, Turkey has traditionally had one foot in the West and one foot in the East. Its Western foot looks ever more shriveled today.

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