British PM and Turkey: Rue, Britannia!
August 1, 2010
British Prime Minister David Cameron traveled to Turkey last week "to establish a new partnership between Britain and Turkey," he stated in an Ankara speech. He described the link as "a vital strategic relationship for our country."
At times, the speech made for painful reading.
Sadly, traditional British grit and gumption were replaced by a rather servile tone throughout much of the talk.
Britain needs Turkey, said Cameron. His words showed that he is prepared to serve as Turkey's booster-in-chief.
But he overlooked, or downplayed, several key aspects of current Turkish policy.
"Turkey shares our determination to fight terrorism in all its forms, whether from al-Qaeda or from the PKK," he said.
How to square that with Turkey's emergence as a stalwart defender of Hamas, a group on the European Union terrorism list? Or Turkey's support for Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed terrorist group that has created a state-within-a-state in Lebanon and been implicated in the 2005 murder of Lebanon's ex-prime minister, Rafik Hariri?
More than once, Turkish air space and land were reportedly used by Iran to ship weapons to Hezbollah until Washington demanded that it end.
Cameron also said of Turkey that "No other country has the same potential to build understanding between Israel and the Arab world."
Today? Out of the question.
Tomorrow? It depends on who's in the driver's seat.
To Israel's dismay, Prime Minister Erdogan, driven by ideology and politics, has eviscerated the once-strong link between Ankara and Jerusalem. The process began several years ago and has steadily picked up steam. Meanwhile, Turkey has moved ever closer to Iran and Syria.
In the next breath, Cameron stated, "Let me be clear: the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla was completely unacceptable."
There was no premeditated Israeli attack on "the Gaza flotilla." Rather, there was an effort, announced in advance, to prevent a group of ships from breaking a legitimate blockade. Until the last minute, Israel offered to have the ships' supplies offloaded at an Israeli port and, after a security check, sent to Gaza.
All of the vessels, save one, agreed, and the outcome was peaceful. The exception was the Mavi Marmara, where Turkish "activists" with links to the terrorist-backing IHH were looking for a fight. As video footage clearly showed, the Israelis were unprepared for the violence that awaited them on board. Yet the British leader had not a single word of disapproval for the aggressive Turkish behavior. Instead, the entire onus was placed on Israel.
He then declared that "Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp."
The clear implication was that if Gaza is a "prison," Israel is the warden.
Yet the British leader offered no context whatsoever.
Just imagine instead that he had used the occasion to speak the truth and tell his hosts that Hamas, by its refusal to accept the Quartet's three conditions for engagement, is responsible for the situation in Gaza.
He could have described the brutal nature of the Hamas regime and urged Ankara not to support it.
He could have denounced the indoctrination of children in the never-ending struggle against Israel.
He could have reminded those present that Egypt also shares a border with Gaza and views the Hamas regime no differently than Israel.
He could have recalled that Hamas is the sworn enemy of the Palestinian Authority, and that the PA is opposed to Ankara's flirtation with Hamas.
And, he could have quoted from the Hamas Charter about the goal of Israel's destruction and a Shari'a-based state in its place, not to mention its many anti-Semitic references.
Indeed, he could have declared that if Gaza is a "prison," then Hamas holds the key. Regrettably, he did not.
And then there was Iran.
Cameron declared: "So we need Turkey's help now in making it clear to Iran just how serious we are about engaging fully with the international community. We hope that the meeting held in Istanbul between the Turkish, Brazilian and Iranian Foreign Ministers will see Iran move in the right direction. The new sanctions that the EU announced yesterday are designed to persuade Iran to give the international community confidence that its nuclear programme really is peaceful, as Iran insists."
Well, actually, the world needed Turkey's help a while back on a new UN resolution - and didn't get it. To the contrary, together with Brasilia, Ankara offered a counter-proposal that would have undermined the effort of the five permanent members of the Security Council.
Despite a diplomatic full-court press by the United States, Britain, and others, Turkey voted against a fourth round of UN sanctions on June 9. By contrast, even Lebanon abstained.
How inspiring it would have been had Cameron, in addition to laudably asking why Iran continues to threaten Israel with annihilation, voiced disappointment with the Turkish stance.
What if he had urged his Turkish hosts to join with the EU in the additional sanctions adopted in Brussels on July 26? After all, Cameron called for Turkey's admission to the EU, so why not alignment on a core policy issue?
And what if he had called on Turkey to ensure enforcement of those UN sanctions adopted to date? There have been reports that Iran is seeking to use Turkish banks and other institutions to circumvent the sanctions.
Finally, noticeably missing from Cameron's speech was any mention of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the far-sighted founder of the modern Turkish republic.
The British leader described Turkey as "a secular and democratic state." That vision originated with Ataturk. There are many Turks today who believe Erdogan has a different vision for the country - less Western-oriented, more theocratically-inspired. Citing Ataturk could have sent a strong message.
Ataturk once said: "Do not be afraid of telling the truth."
No doubt, an earlier Conservative Party leader, Winston Churchill, would have agreed.
And the best place to tell the truth is precisely in those places where the audience least wants to hear it.