Dec 20 2017

Erdoğan tries to divert attention with Jerusalem row – Israeli columnist

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wants to make a big issue of U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to divert attention from embarrassing allegations in a New York sanctions trial in which he was accused of backing illicit trade with Iran, said a column in The Jerusalem Post.

Erdoğan, wrote Neville Teller in the centrist Israeli newspaper, “is a thoroughgoing Muslim Brotherhood adherent, and has been since he first entered politics”, but had hidden it in his early years in power.

As prime minister, Erdoğan even made an official visit to Israel in 2005, but relations soon began to sour, culminating in the 2009 boarding of the Mavi Marmara Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza by Israeli troops.

“Israel's botched military intervention, and the consequent death of nine of the militants, provided Erdoğan with a political and diplomatic bonus he could scarcely have hoped for,” Teller said. “He was not slow to exploit it, condemning Israel for committing a "massacre". His own alleged involvement, and that of his AKP party, in the plot remained largely hidden.”

The Turkish president’s reaction to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem “seemed to presage a replay of the Mavi Marmara situation,” wrote Teller. “Erdoğan emerged from the Mavi Marmara episode with greatly enhanced prestige both domestically and more widely in the Muslim world.”

Erdoğan called an emergency meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) at which Muslim countries called for nations to recognised East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine in retaliation to Trump’s declaration.

Erdoğan has three reasons for confronting the United States, Teller said. Firstly, U.S. support for Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State in Syria. Secondly, the U.S. refusal to hand over exile preacher Fethullah Gülen, the man Turkey blames for last year’s failed coup. And lastly, as cover for the embarrassment of the sanctions trial in New York.

“Whether making a big stir about the Jerusalem issue will succeed in diverting the world’s attention from other, more embarrassing, matters only time will tell,” said Teller.