At first, some observers thought Erdo-gan's harsh criticism of Israel's intervention in Gaza was merely a momentary lapse of diplomatic restraint. The following 12 months, however, showed that Erdogan's outburst reflects what appears to be a radical change in Turkey's foreign policy toward Israel. The inflammatory language continued when the Turkish leader promised a retaliatory air strike "like an earthquake" if Israel were to violate Turkey's air space in attacking Iran. He also predicted that "Allah's revenge" would come on Israel.
Prior to the Davos incident, Turkey and Israel had long enjoyed close diplomatic relations and had even conducted small-scale joint military maneuvers. Turkey also had an important function as a potential mediator in any future peace negotiations between Israel and Syria. Why would Turkey change its approach toward Israel? And what does this mean for the future of the Middle East?
With future EU membership uncertain, Turkey has begun courting its historic realm of influence: the Islamic Arab world, much of which was once under Ottoman Turkish rule for hundreds of years. Erdogan's visit to the Persian Gulf region in January 2011 makes President Obama's comments seem prophetic. Speaking on Jan. 11 at the Turkish-Arab Relations Conference in Kuwait, Erdogan reminded his listeners that Muslim Turks and Arabs had resisted Christian crusaders together. And he urged Arabs and Turks of today to forge their own union and determine the fate of the Middle East:
"The Arabs are our brothers and sisters. We are their brothers and sisters . . . Regardless of what some say, we will continue to develop brotherhood and cooperation with our Arab brothers and sisters . . . We will not turn our back to regions with which we have been sharing friendship and brotherhood for centuries. Our union is political, economic, commercial and cultural. We are members of the same civilization. We share a common history. We wrote our joint history together . . .
"Through solidarity, we can overcome the Palestine problem and end the pain in Iraq and Afghanistan. We do not have to apply at others to help us. Yet, at foremost, we need to establish our own union. We can strengthen stability in Lebanon and prevent terror acts in Egypt. Through solidarity, we can overcome poverty in the region" ("We Will Determine Our Own Foreign Policy, Turkish Premier Says," The Journal of Turkish Weekly, Jan. 11, 2011, emphasis added).Despite tensions that might exist now over the question of Turkish EU membership, it appears Turkey will remain affiliated with Europe. This is a country that straddles both Europe and Muslim Asia—forming a bridge both geographically and culturally between East and West. And, as a possible key player in a future confederation with the Arabs, it seems that Turkey will also provide a link between the Arab Islamic Middle East and Europe.