Who is Afraid of the Fake Caliph?

Turkey’s Erdogan imagines himself the caliph of a newly resurrected Ottoman empire, who can dictate policies to his neighbors and others. Israel may have finally had enough

Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Photo Valeriy Osipov, Flickr)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened today that Turkey might break off diplomatic ties with Israel if the United States formally recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Erdogan has grown accustomed to using blackmail and bullying as a successful tactic. “The EU will be confronted with more than a dead boy on the shores of Turkey. There will be 10,000 or 15,000. How will you deal with that?” said Erdogan to the EU in 2015, almost criminally threatening to confront Europe with thousands of drowned migrants, unless Europe would submit to his demands of visa free entry to Europe for Turkish citizens as well as €6 billion paid over two years. The EU obeyed and agreed in order not to let migrants and refugees use the shores of Turkey as transit stations into Europe.

Erdogan subsequently boasted how he had blackmailed EU leaders into paying him protection money and how European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had pleaded and begged him to see reason, pathetically telling him that the EU had been treating him “as a prince in Brussels.”

Erdogan appears to be laboring under the delusion that he is indeed a ‘prince’, or rather the imagined caliph of a newly resurrected Ottoman empire, who can dictate policies to his neighbors and others. Unfortunately, this delusion is reinforced by the fact that European powers frequently cave – explicitly or implicitly – to his outrageous demands.

In his attempts to strengthen Islam and Islamize the European continent, Erdogan has for years been building Turkish mosques across the continent, most recently in Denmark. Many European leaders do not only let him build mosques in their cities, they literally welcome them in the name of ‘diversity’.

Erdogan has dedicated his career to transforming secular, European-oriented Turkey into an Islamist state, intrinsically hostile to Israel. He has repeatedly rejected Western attempts at portraying his rule as an example of “moderate Islam” declaring that such a concept is “ugly and offensive; there is no moderate Islam. Islam is Islam”. He has also remained a staunch anti-Semite and anti-Zionist.

Erdogan consciously and deliberately destroyed the unique relationship between Israel and Turkey, which existed prior to his accession, especially in the military and intelligence fields. He embraced and supported Israel’s enemies, especially Hamas and Hezbollah.

He strongly condemned Israel’s targeted killings of Hamas’s founders, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi as “state terrorism”, and he was very quick to host the Hamas after it won the elections in 2006.

Conferences featuring the Muslim Brotherhood, including its chief jurist and cleric, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian-Arab branch, Hamas, were hosted in Turkey.

Everything culminated, however, in Erdogan’s covert sponsorship of the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla to Gaza, which set out to deliberately provoke and confront the IDF. The Mavi Marmara ship was led by the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, a jihadist organization posing as a “charity” outfit with close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and with very close connections to Erdogan’s AKP.

After the ship returned to Turkey, having brutally attacked and wounded nine Israeli soldiers, including slashing open the Israeli commander’s stomach, the jihadists were given a heroic welcome by Erdogan. He squarely blamed Israel for the result of the Turkish provocation – nine IHH members were killed during the fight and a tenth later died of his wounds – and, insanely, demanded an apology.

In December 2015, Israel submitted to Erdogan, when it agreed to pay Turkey $20 million in compensation in return for a normalization of the relations. Relations, of course, were never ‘normalized’.

Erdogan sees Israel as a non-Islamic anomaly in the Middle East, and a hindrance to complete Islamization. His latest threat to cut ties with Israel over the possible actions of the US with regards to Jerusalem is a reflection of this fact.

This time, however, no one in Israel is bowing to Erdogan. “Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for 3000 years, and of Israel for the last 70 – whether Erdogan recognizes that or not,” said diplomatic officials in response to Erdogan’s threats.

“Unfortunately, Erdogan does not miss an opportunity to attack Israel. Israel must advance its goals, including the recognition of United Jerusalem as the Capital of the State of Israel,” Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett said, “There will always be those who criticize, but at the end of the day it is better to have a united Jerusalem than Erdogan’s sympathy.”

No one, in fact, needs Erdogan’s sympathy. Submitting to Erdogan has never accomplished anything other than emboldening his Islamist and anti-democratic project. “Democracy, freedom and the rule of law… For us, these words have absolutely no value any longer”, said Erdogan back in 2016.

The words “any longer” were only put there for show — as any observer of Erdogan’s Turkey will tell you, democracy, freedom and the rule of law, have never held any value for Erdogan.


Judith Bergman is a columnist and political analyst

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