For years the US and Israel have been able to rely on Turkey, a staunch ally of both countries and a key power in the Nato military alliance. But Israel’s war on Gaza has now thrown that relationship into turmoil.
Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke out frequently during the offensive, attacking Israel in no uncertain terms for killing innocent people.
He even called for Israel to be barred from the United Nations (UN). “How is such a country, which totally ignores and does not implement resolutions of the UN Security Council, allowed to enter through the gates of the UN?” he declared on Friday 16 January.
Erdogan went further in criticising Israel than any other Middle Eastern head of state, denouncing Israel’s “savagery”.
His statements chime with the wider mood of the country. There were many demonstrations in solidarity with the Palestinians in all of Turkey’s major cities.
Some were organised by the Global Peace and Justice Coalition, and some by Muslim organisations. Other protests gathered spontaneously following Friday prayers. Many Muslim human rights organisations have collected money for Palestinians.
Erdogan’s harsh words, and pictures of him visiting Palestinians receiving medical treatment in Turkish hospitals, have surprised Israeli leaders.
They are used to total quiescence from Turkey which had been positioning itself as a mediator in secret talks between Syria and Israel.
But Erdogan was embarrassed that he wasn’t warned in advance of the attack on Gaza – and furious that his emissary to ceasefire talks in Cairo was left standing outside the room.
Erdogan refused to pick up the phone to the Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and was left out of “peace talks” in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Instead he attended a summit of Arab leaders in Qatar, alongside Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Saudi Arabia and Egypt stayed away from that event.
This extraordinary diplomatic breakdown is now putting bilateral economic and military agreements between Turkey and Israel at risk.
These include an Israeli arms deal worth £123 million signed ten days before the attack on Gaza and a £3 billion deal for a oil pipeline linking the two countries.
The popular outrage in Turkey has put pressure on the government to abandon these agreements. Some companies have already ditched contracts with Israeli firms. One of the key demands of the anti-war demonstrations id for Turkey to cancel all deals with Israel.
In Turkey the political fallout of Israel’s attack on Gaza can been measured in terms of the government’s change in tone. But despite the tough words, the country’s ruling AK Party has yet to make any concrete moves to cut its ties with Israel.