Russia's invasion of Georgia should serve as proof that there are some regimes that simply cannot be considered strategic allies of the West. And as the US and NATO try to assess the wreckage of their attempt to forge a post-Soviet alliance with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, another erstwhile ally is showing that it too, cannot be trusted.
On Wednesday, Iran's genocidal, nuclear weapons-seeking leader, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will arrive in Istanbul for a "working visit" with Turkish leaders. This visit represents a diplomatic triumph for Teheran. Since assuming office three years ago, Ahmadinejad has feverishly pursued diplomatic ties with Western-allied states in an effort to weaken the West's will to take action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Turkey is the first NATO member to welcome him to its territory.
According to media reports, during his visit Ahmadinejad is scheduled to meet with President Abdullah Gul and with Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan. On the agenda are Iran's nuclear program and Turkish-Iranian financial ties. Turkey favors advancing both.
In recent months, the Turkish government has become one of the most outspoken advocates of Iran's nuclear program. At least publicly, Turkish leaders credulously accept Iran's dubious assertions about the peaceful intent of its nuclear program – which it refuses to fully expose to the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency's inspectors.
As for financial ties with Iran, Turkey is working feverishly to expand them. From 2002, when Erdogan's and Gul's Islamic fundamentalist AKP party first assumed leadership of the country through 2007, Turkey's trade with Iran expanded from $1.2 billion to $6.7 billion. In July 2007, Turkey signed a $3.5 billion deal to develop one of Iran's oil fields. Over US objections, Turkey is planning to finalize that deal with Ahmadinejad this week. Trade between the two countries is expanding so quickly that most Turkish businessmen will tell you that Iran is their hottest market.
TURKEY'S WARM ties with Iran are matched by its embrace of Iranian satellites and proxies like Syria and Hizbullah. Turkey was the first Western-allied state and NATO member to host Syrian President Bashar Assad on a state visit after Assad's regime assassinated former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. In 2006, Turkey sided with Hizbullah in its war against Israel. It even allowed Iran to transfer weapons to Hizbullah through Turkey.
Then there is Turkey's open support for Hamas. After Hamas's victory in the January 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, Turkey became the third non-Arab state after Iran and Russia to openly embrace Hamas. Hamas's Syrian-based leader Khaled Mashaal paid an official visit to Ankara where he met with then foreign minister Gul and senior AKP party officials a month after his Iranian-sponsored terror group's electoral victory.
The Turkish government's support for Hamas is complemented by its support for al Qaida financiers. In the summer of 2006, Erdogan endorsed his top advisor's donations to senior al Qaida financier Yasin al-Qadi after they were exposed in the Turkish media. And since entering office, Erdogan, Gul and their AKP colleagues have repeatedly accused Israel and the US of committing genocide against Muslims in Gaza, Lebanon and Iraq.
While both the US and Israel have voiced their displeasure with Turkey's embrace of their enemies, neither country has taken any steps to either discredit Ankara or to distance themselves from the Turkish government. To the contrary, both Israel and the US continue to praise Turkey as a strategic ally. Both insist that under the AKP, Turkey is demonstrating that it is possible to be Islamic fundamentalist and pro-Western. And both are enabling and indeed encouraging Turkey to act as an intermediary between them and their sworn enemies.
In Israel's case, Turkey has been mediating the Olmert-Livni-Barak government's negotiations with Syria. And in the US's case, it appears that Turkey has played a mediation role between Washington and Teheran. On July 17, both US National Security Advisor Steven Hadley and Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mouttaki just happened to be visiting Ankara on the same day. Two days later, US Assistant Secretary of State William Burns met with Iran's nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in Geneva.
In both cases, it is far from clear that either Israel or the US have benefitted from Turkey's increasingly prominent role in their foreign policy. In fact, in both cases, Israel and the US have weakened their position by allowing Turkey to serve as a mediator between them and their adversaries.
IN THE case of Syria, as Assad's recent visit to Teheran showed clearly, Israel's attempt to use negotiations with Syria to pry Damascus away from its strategic alliance with Teheran has failed. To date, the only thing its decision to hold indirect negotiations with Syria in Turkey has done is end Syria's isolation from the West.
As for Iran, the Bush administration's decision to allow Turkey to mediate between it and the ayatollahs has arguably emboldened Turkey to move forward with its Iranian oil deal. Beyond that, Turkey's success in convincing the Americans to actively pursue diplomacy with the Iranians paved the way for the US's humiliation in Geneva last month. During that meeting, Jalili made no attempt to reach an agreement with the US and its partners. And by joining the Europeans and the Russians in directly engaging Iran, the US facilitated Russia's announcement last week that it sees no reason to impose additional UN Security Council sanctions against Iran for its failure to agree to temporarily suspend its uranium enrichment activities.
Like Russia under Putin, Turkey under Erdogan's leadership has masked its rapid transformation from a flawed but pro-Western democracy under its previous governments into an anti-Western – and in Turkey's case Islamist – regime by paying lip service to the West even as it has taken steps to purge its power structure of pro-Western voices. Just as Putin's popular government has taken brutal action against his political, intellectual and financial foes, so too, Erdogan's popularly elected Islamic fundamentalist regime has worked steadily to discredit, criminalize and intimidate its pro-Western rivals.
SINCE TAKING office in 2002, the AKP under Erdogan has taken control over Turkey's bureaucracy. It has weakened women's rights. It has launched brutal campaigns against its foes in the media, taking over opposition television stations and arresting and intimidating anti-Islamic editors and reporters. It has taken over the Turkish secret police and regular police forces. It has stacked the Turkish courts with its loyalists. It has enabled the opening of radical Islamic madrassas. It has penetrated the military and demoralized and intimidated the senior officer corps. It has ignored court judgments against it.
Through the police, it has launched a massive wire tapping campaign against its political opponents and has leaked embarrassing transcripts of these tapped phone calls to its loyalist press to humiliate and intimidate its rivals. It has used wiretaps of opposition journalists in police interrogations of their editors.
The only remaining secular check on Erdogan's government is Turkey's Constitutional Court. Last week, the court narrowly rejected the court's chief prosecutor's lawsuit calling for the outlawing of the AKP party on the grounds that it is seeking to overthrow Turkey's secular constitutional order. In their ruling, ten out of eleven judges did agree that the AKP is seeking to weaken Turkey's secular identity and ruled that it be denied government funding.
In an apparent bid to both distract the public from the court case and to further delegitimize its opponents, the government claims that it unco
vered a conspiracy by senior opposition officials, including leading journalists, businessmen and generals, called the Ergenekon plot to overthrow the government. It alleges that most of the terror attacks carried out by Islamic terrorists over the past several years were actually carried out by members of this secularist cabal. Last month the police arrested two retired generals, a prominent industrialist and a respected journalist along with 17 others in its prosecution of the Ergenekon plot.
In all of this, of course, Erdogan and his associates are mirroring Putin's actions in Russia since he assumed office in 2000. Like Putin, the AKP replaced a deeply corrupt, unpopular pro-Western government. While Putin has built his popularity on xenophobia and hatred of the West, Erdogan and the AKP have built their popularity on a rejection of secular Turkish nationalism in favor of pan-Islamism and hatred of the US and Israel. And as they have moved their countries away from the West, both Putin and Erdogan have managed to maintain good relations with Washington by going through the motions of supporting its war against terror even as they have both embraced terrorists and their state sponsors.
THE LESSON moving forward from all of is not that Israel and the US should turn their backs on Turkey. In an international environment that is increasingly hostile to liberal democracies, there is no reason to cut off ties with hostile regimes just because they are hostile. But at the same time, neither the US nor Israel should delude themselves by thinking that Turkey remains their strategic ally. It is not. And there are consequences to this fact.
For the US, beyond ending immediately Turkey's role as an intermediary with Iran, it would make sense to float the notion of removing Turkey from NATO due to its expanding ties with Iran. Just the suggestion of such a move would no doubt have a profound effect on the Turks. Certainly, the US should be reaching out to regime opponents and calling for Erdogan and his associates to end their attempts to repress the anti-Islamic media and secular politicians, businessmen and military commanders.
If the US is concerned about inflaming Turkish sentiment against it through such moves it should consider that since Erdogan took power, and as the US has bent over backwards to be nice to him, anti-US sentiment in Turkey has risen steeply. According to a recent Pew international opinion poll, today the Turks are the most anti-American society in the world.
For its part, Israel should reassess its willingness to sell sensitive military equipment to Turkey given its close ties to Israel's enemies. It should certainly stop its Turkish-mediated talks with Syria and reject Turkish offers to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians.
Like Russia, Turkey's anti-Western regime is promoting itself to the West by pretending not to be anti-Western. And as was the case with Russia up until it decided to invade defenseless Georgia over the weekend, the US and its allies have been willing to endanger their strategic interests to believe this lie.
It can only be hoped that the West will abandon this policy before it inadvertently paves the way for a new Iranian-allied axis of evil populated by the likes of Russia, Turkey and Pakistan. All of these governments owe much of their power to the West's willingness to believe that their anti-Western regimes could be trusted as strategic allies until it was too late.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.