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Pleasing all sides will test Turkey 17 août 2006

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.

The Times (UK), August 17, 2006

Foreign Editor’s Briefing by Bronwen Maddox

It now looks likely that Turkey will send troops to help in Lebanon, but the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is coming under attack at home for the move.Turkey will be dragged into “the Middle East ring of fire”, Deniz Baykal, leader of the main pposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), has said. 

The Lebanese conflict has magnified the forces pulling Turkey in different directions at once. It is a member of Nato, and its army has long experience of peacekeeping, from Kosovo to Afghanistan. It is a longstanding ally of the US. It has cordial relations with both Israel and Arab countries. It has ambitions of joining the European Union.

Yet in this conflict, as it weighs up the risks of taking a much more active role in its own backyard, it is pulled between its support of the EU, US and Israel, and sympathy with other Muslim countries.

For the moment, those forces have pulled the Government to a standstill, as it tries to please all sides. But this summer there has been a distinct shift in public mood away from Europe. The message of the Lebanon crisis is that the West cannot take Turkey’s support for granted. Yesterday, Abdullah Gül, the ubiquitous Turkish Foreign Minister, flew to Beirut to try to thrash out plans for a Turkish military contribution to the United Nations force planned for southern Lebanon.

Some in the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP), which has Islamist roots, are nervous that taking part — and perhaps clashing with Hezbollah — will cost it dearly in next year’s elections.

The Erdogan Government has held off from saying exactly how many troops it might send, or whether they might actually engage in combat. It is waiting until the mandate of the UN force is clarified, it says. It has bought itself a lot of time, then, as that remains the hardest issue for the UN to settle.

In the meantime, Ankara is continuing with the uncontroversial step of sending aid. But sending troops would be more contentious. Two widely reported polls this summer, by Pew and Princeton Survey Research Associates, recorded a sharp fall in sympathy with the US and a rise in support for Iran.

With an eye on that constituency, Erdogan has said several times that Turkey cannot be “neutral and impartial” in the Lebanon conflict. Turkish columnist Semih Idiz, writing in the centrist, secular newspaper Milliyet, criticised “Erdogan’s harsh words towards Israel”, arguing that “Turkey is slowly and gradually distancing itself from the West”.

Another columnist in Hurriyet, Ilter Turkmen, chided Erdogan: “He must know best how dangerous the rampant anti-Semitism in Turkey can be.”

For an example of that sentiment, you have only to turn to the Islamist daily Vakit, in which the columnist Ayhan Bilgin wrote: “The rabid attacks by Israel . . . are diminishing its chances of existing on the sacred [Muslim] land. Nobody should be surprised when tomorrow’s sun rises on a world without Israel.”

As the columnist Yusuf Kanli put it in the Turkish Daily News: “Things are changing in Turkey. People are becoming more conservative. Conservatives are becoming more nationalist. And nationalists are becoming racist.” He asks, like many of Erdogan’s critics, why “Turks [should] die in Lebanon for the security of Israel but not . . . in northern Iraq for the security of Turkey”? Lebanon is a diversion, some argue, from Turkey’s own battle against Kurdish separatist rebels in the southeast.

Many others say it will distract the Government from the arduous and expensive task of qualifying for EU membership — and of persuading an increasingly sceptical public that this is still in Turkey’s best interests.


1. mike - 18 août 2006

It’s much better that a reinforcement will be of help in Lebanon. Let’s just hope that Turkey could be of good service to them.

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