Erdogan was a protégé of the first Islamist Prime minister of Turkey, Necmettin Erbakan (1996-1997), who was removed from office by the Turkish military. Erbakan mentored the younger Erdogan, and Erbakan’s Welfare Party was transformed by Erdogan into the AKP party. Erbakan yielded a great deal of influence through a transnational network called Milli Gorus (MG) or “National Vision.” MG cooperates with radical cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi through the so-called European Council for Fatwas and Research (ECFR), headed by al-Qaradawi. Erbakan’s fanatical Jew-hatred was reflected in a 2007 Middle East Media Research Institute rebroadcast of a television interview in which Erbakan alleged that “Jews had sought world domination since the delivery of the Torah.” According to Erbakan, “the safety of Israel …means that they will rule the 28 countries from Morocco to Indonesia . . . All the Crusades were organized by the Zionists.” Erbakan insisted that “racist imperialist Zionism organized 19 Crusades just to reach its goals. To organize the Crusades, it used the Christians.” Erbakan, who referred to Jews as “bacteria,” also claimed Jews invented Protestantism. In a particularly notable flight of paranoia, he declared that a Jewish man named “Kabbalah” originated a scheme for world conquest.
Erbakan originated the call for a close Turkish-Islamic Republic of Iran relationship, which Erdogan has followed as well, albeit he now fancies himself as the reviver of the old Ottoman Empire — an historic rival of the Persian Empire. Having won three consecutive elections, Erdogan has been able to consolidate his power, and practically eliminated the power of the secular military. He has replaced the military’s top brass, as well as the judiciary’s, with his own loyalists. Erdogan feels invincible at this time, and that explains his preoccupation with Israel.
Trade between Turkey and Israel has, over the years, grown to significant levels for both countries. Israel’s exports to Turkey amount to $1.3 billion, while Turkey’s exports to Israel reached $1.8 billion in goods and services. For Erdogan, however, his personal animus towards Israel overrides the interests of Turkey’s business community. Erdogan expelled the Israeli ambassador in Ankara and reduced the level of diplomatic ties to Second Secretary. He has also ordered strip-searches of Israeli passengers in Turkey’s major airports. And, in a provocative move to further escalate tension in the relations with Israel, last week he announced that he will consider visiting Gaza.
For Israelis, Erdogan has become a vicious enemy, second only to Iran’s Ahmadinejad. Israelis do, however, cherish the relationship they had with the once friendly secular-Muslim Turkey and hope that cooler heads will somehow restrain Erdogan – ultimately serving the interests of both the Turkish and Israeli people.
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