By Ben Cohen/

Of all the half-truths and
misconceptions that mar the American debate over the level of influence
exercised by Israel on U.S. Middle East policy, the most irritating has to be
the manner in which Israel’s foes ignore the behavior of our Arab and Middle
Eastern allies when it comes to confounding America’s national interests in the

Click photo to download. Caption: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Credit: World Economic Forum.

In recent years, non-Arab
Turkey has frequently proved this point. Like Israel, Ankara can count on an
active, influential domestic lobby (which arguably includes leading American Jewish
organizations, who, for “strategic reasons,” have eagerly aided the Turkish
government in derailing attempts by U.S. legislators to recognize the genocide
of the Armenians that occurred almost a century ago.) Unlike Israel, though,
Turkey’s current leadership prefers to scorn those U.S. imperatives it
disagrees with, rather than engage in a diplomatic back-and-forth.

When President Barack Obama
visited Israel in March, his attempt to mend relations between Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and Turkey’s Islamist Prime Minister, Recep
Tayyip Erdogan, was widely regarded as a triumph. Relations between Israel and
Turkey have been heavily strained since May 2010, when Israeli naval commandos
confronted a seaborne flotilla of Islamist thugs, sponsored by the sinister
Islamist “charity,” the IHH, who tried to break Israel’s blockade of
Hamas-ruled Gaza. According to the conventional account of what happened during
his trip to Israel, Obama “persuaded” Netanyahu to phone Erdogan, apologize for
the loss of life in the flotilla clash, and begin negotiations about paying
compensation to the “victims” of Israel’s entirely justifiable action.

Actually, Netanyahu didn’t
need much persuading. For one thing, Israeli officials were never happy with
the collapse of relations with Turkey, its historic ally. For another, the
Israelis calculated that paying compensation was preferable to a continued
legal and political battle over the Gaza blockade. Finally, the wily Netanyahu
may well have foreseen what has now come to pass: that Erdogan would backtrack
and thus put the U.S. in the embarrassing position of having to cajole Turkey
while Israel cooperates.

Despite pleas from Secretary
of State John Kerry not to do so, Erdogan insists that he will proceed with a
visit to Gaza in May. Kerry’s argument is that Erdogan risks endangering the
prospect of reconciling Hamas with the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority (PA)
in the West Bank–a position which, significantly, is shared by the PA, whose
representative in Ankara, Nabil Maarouf, explicitly
said he would prefer that Erdogan travel to Gaza after reconciliation between the two factions.

Many Turkish analysts believe that
Erdogan’s defiance is rooted in domestic concerns. The dangerous blend of
Islamism and nationalism that defines Turkish politics today has put Erdogan on
the defensive. His failure to prevent the Assad regime in Syria from continuing
the slaughter of its own people with weapons both chemical and conventional
makes him look weak. He is having a hard time selling the Turkish public on a
peace agreement with the restive Kurdish minority, whose suffering is largely
ignored by a western press focused on Gaza. And his decision to play ball with
Netanyahu triggered an angry response from the families of the flotilla
“victims” and from the IHH as well, which slammed Erdogan for negotiating with
the Israelis while the Gaza …read more


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