Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogans verbal antics are nothing new to European leaders. Radical rhetoric is one thing, they say, but at the end of the day, the pragmatic good sense that has characterized Turkish foreign policy for so long will prevail.
The problem is that Erdogans tone is growing ever more shrill, and it looks increasingly as if he might translate words into action.
He has sent a Turkish ship to prospect for natural gas and oil deposits along the coast of Cyprus and threatened Turkish military supervision of the activity: non-stop patrols by frigates, gunboats and the air force warned Erdogan. This offers more than hint that the Turkish premier intends to back up his high-flying claims to dominance not only in the Middle East but also in Europe.
Erdogan appears increasingly to be leaving a sensible sort of Realpolitik behind in favor of a self-aggrandizing messianic stance. Since his recent trip to Egypt and Libya, where he was celebrated as a kind of healing force, he has mixed a pro-Islamic democracy message with an ever stronger anti-Israel position.
One result is that Erdogans sense of international law appears to have morphed into his own definition of what that law is. Turkey claims to have a rightful share in Cypruss natural gas and oil deposits based in the supposed right of a state the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus that is only recognized by Ankara.
His approach on the Gaza Flotilla conflict with Israel offers a similar militant will to disparage international law if it shouldnt happen to coincide with his way of reading events.
When trying to get through Israels Gaza blockade in the Spring of 2010, nine activists were killed by the Israelis on the Turkish aid ship Mavi Marmara.
Erdogan keeps insisting that Israel must present formal excuses to Turkey and put an immediate end to the Gaza blockade which he says violates international law. The Turkish Prime Minister has even gone so far as to say that Israels behavior constitutes grounds for war.
But not only does Erdogan sneeringly push aside international laws if they dont suit him, he posits himself as guardian of a kind of higher morality among states.
However, even as he denounces Israels behavior towards the Palestinians in ever more strident tones, he apparently sees nothing objectionable in the fact that for years Turkey has launched attacks against PKK extremists in Kurdish northern Iraq.
And Erdogan recently announced a joint offensive of Turkish and Iranian forces against Kurdish rebels deep inside Iraq. When asked about possible casualties from this operation, he replied coldly: Im sorry to say this, but there will be a price to pay.
Erdogan assumes a moral tone even as he preaches a double standard with regard not only to international law, but to human beings. He went so far as to state that Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir could not be responsible for genocide since Muslims, quite simply, did not do that sort of thing. And his government continues to question the Armenian genocide at the end of World War I at the hands of his own people.
Erdogan has been increasingly critical of the bloody repression of Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad, who used to be a close ally. Still, he hasnt quite been able to bring himself to call for Assad to step down.
Meanwhile, he goes deeper and deeper in demonizing Israel. In a recent interview with CNN, Erdogan even questioned just how accurate figures were with regard to Israelis who had lost their lives as a result of Palestinian terror attacks. According to Erdogan it was, however, beyond question that Israel had murdered hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. With regard to the Holocaust, Erdogan appears to share views similar to those of Iranian president Ahmadinedjad that Israel uses the Holocaust as an excuse so as to be able assume the stance of victim.
Furthermore, according to Erdogan, Germany alone should pay for the atrocities against the Jews: neither the Turks nor the Muslims in the region had anything to do with this problem.
This sort of attitude shows that Erdogans hostility to Israel goes well beyond economic and political disgruntlement. It constitutes the ideological core of his endeavor to present himself to the Arab world as a charismatic spiritual guide and pan-Islamic leader.
And indeed: since Gamal Abdel Nasser, arguably no other political figure has found such broad resonance in the region as Erdogan.
Still his growing irrationality and regional stature should not cover up the fact that he pursues Turkeys interests with an unwavering eye. Even Erdogans anger at Israel is connected to the fact that Cyprus and the Jewish state want to team up to drill for gas and oil in the Mediterranean. Turkeys confrontation course against Israel will become a European problem -- so Europe would be well-advised to listen exactly to what Erdogan has to say, and assume that he means it.
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