Reporting from Ankara

I’m currently in Ankara, Turkey. I’ve been travelling here regularly for business for around a decade.

Ten years ago, I was warmly treated in Turkey, both by clients and by Joe-in-the-street – who were enthusiastic about showing their respect and affection for anyone from Israel.

With the series of hostile acts over the past years by Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan against Israel, culminating in this week’s expulsion of Israel’s ambassador and many diplomatic staff, and today’s news report that Israeli travelers were systematically harassed at Istanbul airport, a once fine relationship, has been irreparably  shredded.

Although it feels a bit nutty to be still coming here, with the relations between the two countries at rock bottom, I’m actually a (very small) part of a four billion dollar Israel/Turkey commerce. Interestingly enough, and counter intuitional, this binational business is stronger than ever – according to Yediot Achronot, up a dramatic 26% up on last year.

The one customer here with whom I dared to discuss the latest anti-Israeli diatribe from Erdogan (which was airing on the news while we chatted), said that he is wholly embarrassed by Erdogan, who he described as a “dangerous hot-head”.

Not solely regarding Israel, but apparently on other issues also, my customer said Erdogan is reckless, illogical and disastrous for Turkey. The educated classes, he told me, are strongly against Erdogan. He said that he doesn’t even have a single friend who voted for Erdogan in the recent elections.

Under the slogan “no problems with neighbors”, Erdogan’s government set out to fix the many historical disputes with most of its immediate neighbors. Indeed, there was a sudden and dramatic warming of Turkey's previously-frosty relations with Syria, Iran, Armenia and Greece.

However, this was countered with Erdogan's constant flow of bully-boy antics against Turkey's erstwhile strategic ally, Israel.

My customer pointed out that the "no problems with neighbors" policy has proven a total failure – Turkey has more problems than ever.

By murdering thousands of citizens in its streets, Syria is embarrassing new-buddy Turkey, and threatening disruption and refugees to their common border.

Erdogan’s support of nuclear Iran, backfired, and seriously damaged Turkey’s relations with the USA and other Western allies – including the EU, which Turkey has long craved membership. Such membership prospects now disappeared over the horizon.

And recent fracas with Greek Cyrpus over Gas Field exploration in the Mediterranean (which Erdogan claims is not in Greek waters – because Greek Cyprus itself does not exist), is now threatening to lead to warfare on the high seas (Erdogan today: “securing the Eastern Mediterranean” seems to be turk-speak for enforcing Turkish sovereignty over Cypriot gas fields).

And Erdogan was wrong footed (along with the rest of the world) by the Arab Spring, leaving him bereft of strongmen Arab allies.

If, by slamming Israel, he was playing to the Arab gallery – there’s no one left watching.

Erdogan’s Turkey has apparently even managed to fall out with Azerbaijan, an erstwhile strong ally.

However, there is no denying Erdogan’s success at the polls.

Three successive General Election victories is an awesome accomplishment for any democracy. This June’s election was Erdogan's largest majority – almost achieving his goal of a 60% landslide.

So, the educated classes aside, there is no end in sight for Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman ambitions.

And so anyone who shares Ehud Barak’s optimism for re-building Israel’s strategic relations with this Turkish buffoon, regretfully is hallucinating... 

But, given the counter-intuitional nature of Israeli-Turkish commerce, maybe the four billion dollar trade will continue to flow?


  1. The Arab Spring must teach us, and particularly the Israel leadership to listen to the Arab proletariat because he is become the new king of the middle-east and the Arab leadership and smaller middle-class are becoming subservients. Erdogan has a few million peasants breathing down his collar who want to feel important. Popular, simple and neutral/empty/ambiguous messages by our leadeship can do a lot more good than Israeli clever-clogs indignation and self-justification. "Fargin" to them in a way that makes them feel important but not superior. Keep the guns cocked. Say lots of things that sound nice to the Arab ear that carries no legal weight/ramifications then business can continue as usual. Don't apologize but don't say "we are not going to apologize". When are we all gonna learn that for goodness sakes? Sometimes tzedek isn't it. You also need sechel.


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