Erdogan, a wannabe sultan

By Anshel Pfeffer, August 14, 2014

Turkish Airlines announced last week that it was cancelling two of its seven daily flights to Ben Gurion Airport.

Despite the fact that commercial ties between the two countries remain strong and Istanbul is an attractive and competitive hub for Israelis, President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan's relentless anti-Israel and antisemitic rhetoric has taken its toll.

Mr Erdogan's first-round victory in Turkey's presidential election on Sunday seems to guarantee that there will be no improvement in political or diplomatic ties in the near future - and this has had an impact even on Israelis seeking cheaper airfares.

In 11 years as prime minister, Mr Erdogan has transformed Turkey into a regional powerhouse, raising living standards, ending the secular traditions of government and the military's central role in politics. He hopes now to push through sweeping constitutional changes which will give the presidency unprecedented powers and allow him to launch the next stage of his grand design, one in which "a strong Turkey will rise once again from the ashes", as he said in his last election speech.

The obstacles facing him, however, are significant. He lacks a necessary two-thirds majority in parliament; the nationalists and the liberals in the west, and the Kurds in the East, oppose him; and, in the last couple of years, his ambitions to boost Turkey's influence abroad have been stymied by developments across the Middle East. His economic successes are threatened by a debt crisis and real-estate bubble. Instead of being at the centre of a wide Muslim alliance, Ankara's ties with Egypt have deteriorated following last year's military coup and Turkey now finds itself with only Qatar and Iran as potential allies.

His once close relationship with President Barack Obama has also evaporated as a result of his anti-democratic stance.

Mr Erdogan sees Israel and, by extension, the Jews, as a main link in the forces arrayed against him. Officials in Jerusalem who have worked for years to try to rebuild the strategic ties with Ankara today concede that nothing will change while the wannabe Ottoman Sultan remains in charge.

Israel's offer to apologise and pay compensation for the deaths of nine Turkish citizens in the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident and the phone call between the two country's prime ministers brokered by Mr Obama last year have failed to yield an agreement. Last month, Israel vetoed any Turkish involvement in the efforts to reach a ceasefire in Gaza.

Inflammatory comparisons between Israelis and Hitler and barely veiled threats towards the local Jewish community may have helped Mr Erdogan secure his first-round majority but they also serve to underline his frustration at Turkey's growing isolation in the diplomatic sphere.

Last updated: 3:58pm, August 15 2014