Analysis: Recep Erdogan's strategy may soon backfire

By Meir Javedanfar, July 8, 2010

The results of the recent poll conducted by the Israel Project in the United States must have come as great news to the Turks. According to its findings, only 34 per cent of Americans support the Israeli operation against the flotilla, and this is in a country where public opinion is very sympathetic to Israel.

The Turks are also finding, to their surprise, that the Obama administration is not placing too much pressure on them. Apart from arranging the meeting between Israeli Minister of Trade Fuad Ben-Eliezer and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Brussels, Mr Obama seems to be in no great hurry to defend Israel's position.

The Americans have their own fish to fry with the Turks, and that is Ankara's support for Iran in the UN Security Council. To them that is much more important and they want to keep focusing on that. Bibi's tense relations with Mr Obama could be another factor. The US president is waiting to see if Bibi will extend the settlement freeze. If he does, Mr Obama may place pressure on the Turks as a quid pro quo. For now, he seems to be in no hurry.

As a result, the Erdogan government feels it can continue to push Israel, threatening to cut off diplomatic relations if Israel does not apologise for its actions on the flotilla.

And why not? Recep Erdogan is fulfilling his aim of boosting Turkey's image in the Muslim world. If his gamble pays off, it could boost the position of his country even more. After all, which other Muslim country has managed to extract an apology and compensation from Israel?

But although Mr Erdogan seems to have chosen the right subject and timing to pressure Israel, he will have to be careful.

If he goes too far, he may find that his efforts will become counter-productive. This is especially true when it come to his threats to cut ties with Israel. If he does that, it would deprive him of a relationship which not only has military advantages for his country, but has also brought Ankara leverage in the Middle East, especially in the role of a mediator.

By cutting ties with Jerusalem, his government will lose the important diplomatic equilibrium which has until now served its interests.

The success of Erdogan's strategy to gain points from the flotilla affair depends on moderation and knowing when to stop. Everything should have its limits, and so should Mr Erdogan's current strategy of pressuring Israel.

Meir Javedanfar is a MidEast analyst

Last updated: 3:11pm, July 8 2010