While Turkish reaction to WikiLeaks is varied, the belief that Turkey has been explicitly targeted is widespread, and many commentators and politicians have pointed the finger at Israel.
Tensions between Turkey and Israel were already high, especially with the flotilla raids fresh in the public’s mind. Eight Turks and one Turkish-American were killed in May when their ship—part of a Turkish-sponsored flotilla attempting to break Israel’s embargo on Gaza—was raided by Israeli soldiers. Israel insists the soldiers acted in self-defense, but Turkey rejects the claim and has recalled its ambassador from Israel. While Turkey awaits a formal apology and compensation for the lives lost, Israel would like a guarantee that its soldiers will not be prosecuted.
Once a good friend to Israel, Turkey has since shifted gears and now seems to be chumming with Syria and Iran.
Meanwhile, the timing of the release of the WikiLeaks cables has raised suspicions in Turkey, with many believing it to be the work of Israel.
A rather widely believed conspiracy theory involves Israel, Jewish-American lobby groups, American neo-cons, “slanderer” diplomats, and a power hungry oppositional Republican People’s Party (CHP) hooked onto the “WikiLeaks bait,” determined to hurt the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The “bait” is a chunky one, and difficult to resist. According to WikiLeaks, 7,918 of the 251,287 cables come from Turkey—the most out of any country. The information in these cables is overwhelming, with much of it shedding unfavorable light onto the AKP and its leaders, through accusations of corruption, incompetence, arrogance, and paranoia.
The anti-Israeli statements were to a degree foreseeable. The “Zionist conspiracy” theory, coupled with explosive comments (such as that from Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu that Israel’s raid on the Gaza flotilla is “Turkey’s 9/11”) make the possibility of reconciliation difficult.
The current anti-Israeli rhetoric in Turkey (and elsewhere) is sick in the core, stemming from deep-seated prejudices. This is not a new phenomenon in Turkey, as similar claims have been proffered in regards to the extermination of the Armenians in 1915, which has been attributed by some to a Jewish conspiracy. Rifat Bali discusses this in his book A Scapegoat for All Seasons: The Doenmes or Crypto-Jews of Turkey.
So, meet WikiLeaks, “the Zionist conspiracy,” straight from journalists’ and politicians’ mouths…
‘Covert operation against Turkey’
“The WikiLeaks bait,” writes Today’s Zaman columnist Huseyin Gulerce, is leading the opposition astray. “Everything has been done to trigger contention between the government and the opposition. Continuous efforts are being invested in the destabilization of Turkey… Indeed, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) took the bait immediately.”
“There is a simple question that we must ask. Given the fact that this is a covert operation against Turkey, Muslim countries, and the Obama Administration, who would benefit most from attacking Obama—who has been frequently portrayed as a Muslim in the U.S. media—and from rendering his relations with the Muslim world ineffective? What are the positions of the neo-conservatives of the Bush era as well as the Jewish lobby that is particularly influential over the U.S. secretary of state, with respect to this operation?” he asks.
Gulerce’s comments are but an echo of a widely discussed theme in Turkey. Similar questions and even outright accusations have come from top Ankara officials, proving that these conspiracy theories aren’t merely sensational stories written to up viewer ratings, but are beliefs that have started to take root in the public consciousness.
One of the more discussed comments is that of AKP’s deputy leader and spokesman, Huseyin Celik, who publicly hinted that Israel could be behind the leaked cables. “One has to look at which countries are pleased with these. Israel is very pleased. Israel has been making statements for days, even before the release of these documents,” Celik was quoted as saying.
“Documents were released and they immediately said, ‘Israel will not suffer from this.’ How did they know that,” asked Celik, adding that “Turkey, with its efficiency and foreign policy, has treaded on someone’s fields. The prime minister is known as a dominant leader not only in Turkey but also in the world.”
Similarly, Turkish Interior Minister Besir Atalay expressed his “surprise” at the cables’ contents, noting that Israel was the only country that was spared. “Israel seems to be the only country in the Middle East which is not mentioned in the WikiLeaks documents. It also seems to be the only country in whose favor the documents came,” he was quoted as saying.
Even Turkish President Abdullah Gul was reported to have said, “I think it has a system, it seems that it has an aim,” about the leaked cables.
Meanwhile, according to Today’s Zaman, Erdogan’s chief consultant, Yalcin Akdogan, suggested that Israel was trying to damage U.S.-Turkey relations. “Israel’s main target is the Erdogan government. The fact that the documents include allegations aimed at discrediting the government doesn’t seem to be a coincidence.”
Turkey’s former prime minister and leader of the Felicity Party (SP), Necmettin Erbakan, has proposed a variation on the Zionist conspiracy. Erdogan and Gul, he said, “do not know they have been serving Israeli interests.” His interviewer, Abdullah Bozkurt, added that Erbakan “criticized the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), saying it is in the hands of the worldwide Zionist movement. He implied that the rise of the AK Party was helped by the international Jewish conspiracy and vowed that he will fight back to stem the Zionist grip on the neck of Turkey.”
Erbakan, who plans on bringing his party to power in next year’s general elections, said, “This is like a jihad for us, and it is incumbent upon every Muslim to order ‘the good’ and avoid ‘the evil.’”
The flotilla raid continues to reverberate in Turkish society, providing additional fuel to anti-Israeli sentiments. Add to it provocative and emotionally charged comments and it seems like Turkey is ready for an “Operation Israeli Freedom”—post 9/11 U.S. style.
However, all is rhetoric for now. Erdogan’s recent friendly gesture towards Israel—sending two firefighting aircrafts to Haifa to help put out deadly fires—was a much-appreciated first step. It was followed by a meeting between Yosef Ciechanover, a senior Israeli diplomat, and Turkish Foreign Minister Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu. Hurriyet quoted an anonymous “Israeli diplomatic source” as saying, “Netanyahu sees great importance in improving [Turkish-Israeli] ties, but above all he’s determined to see that IDF [Israeli Defense Force] soldiers and officers will not be open to lawsuits and arrests around the world.”
In addition to the issue of legal consequences, there is the issue of “apology” versus “regret.” Turkey has demanded that Israel “apologize” for the Turkish lives lost during the flotilla raid. Israel would rather use the word “regrets,” maintaining that the IDF acted in self-defense.
“Sending aid for the fire in Israel was a humanitarian and Islamic duty for us,” said Erdogan. “Now some are saying, ‘Let’s start a new period.’ First our demands should be fulfilled.” And those responsible for “martyring” nine people during the Gaza flotilla raid must be punished, he explained. “First, an apology must be offered and compensation paid.”
The issue, however, has become much greater than the flotilla raid. Turkey’s nuzzling with Israel’s arch-nemesis Iran, its stance on the Palestinian issue, and the anti-Israeli slogans make the Israelis uneasy. On the other hand, the Palestinian-Israeli issue (a solid card in the hands of any Middle Eastern government eager to gain points domestically), and the perceived notion that Israel will attempt to weaken any powerful Muslim state, hardly endear it to the Turkish public.
Iran has also attributed the release of the WikiLeaks cables to Zionist elements. “Undoubtedly, the Western governments and the Zionist regime were involved,” Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying.
Turkey’s closeness to Iran and hostility towards Israel have affected Israeli public opinion. In an article published in the Jerusalem Post, NYU professor of international relations, Alon Ben-Meir, noted, “Even more than the heated rhetoric or the fatal flotilla incident, Turkey’s posture regarding Iran has left no doubt among Israelis that it can no longer be trusted,” adding that “The perceived Turkish shift toward Iran further undermines Ankara’s ability to serve as a mediator in the region.”
Turkey could very well be one major target of the WikiLeaks cables. However, the “Zionist conspiracy” seems to be rooted in prejudices. No evidence has backed these accusations—at least none that has been made public. Moreover, with the flotilla raid still unresolved, the “Zionist conspiracy” adds fuel to the fire and projects an unflattering image of Turkey.