by Ahmet Aslan (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 3, Rajab, 1437)
Recep Tayip Erdogan has had to eat crow and is trying to ingratiate himself to the Zionists once again as he continues with his destructive policy of destabilizing the Muslim East undermining Islamic self-determination.
On April 11, Saudi King Salman bin ‘Abd al-‘Aziz landed in Istanbul. In a warm welcoming ceremony President Recep Tayyip Erdogan received his guest of honour at the gates of the plane and subsequently decorated him with Turkey’s highest medal. One wonders what the Najdi Bedouin had done to deserve such honour when no other head of state attending the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Istanbul was accorded anything near such treatment. It certainly is indicative of the rapidly warming relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It is not known, however, if such a welcoming visit prevented King Salman from recalling the haunting memories of the past. In 1818 the same city received King Salman’s grandfather, ‘Abdullah ibn Saud, chained and humiliated together with Sulayman ibn ‘Abdillah, a grandson of Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab.
At the time, the short-lived Saudi State had committed horrific crimes in the holy Muslim cities of Makkah, Madinah, and Karbala’. It was not dissimilar to what ISIS is doing today in Syria and Iraq. The Najdi hordes had sacked and plundered the holy cities and slaughtered the Muslim residents there (men, women, and children) in their thousands. The Wahhabis immediately declared these residents “infidels” for not adopting the obscurantist Wahhabi/salafi ideas. The Ottoman sultan at the time, Mahmud II, was forced to take action despite the fact that he was caught up in a war with the Europeans. He sent his forces to deal with the Najdi-led rebellion and put an end to this fitnah in the Arabian Peninsula.
The task of dealing with the Wahhabi fitnah in the Arabian Peninsula was assigned to Muhammad Ali who was the governor of Egypt on behalf of the Ottoman State. His army was able to liberate Makkah and Madinah from the Wahhabi hordes in 1813 but when the latter fled to their stronghold in Dari‘yah, that proved a little more challenging. Finally in 1818, Muhammad Ali’s son Ibrahim Pasha was able to defeat the Najdi Bedouins in their traditional stronghold. Dari‘yah was razed to the ground while ‘Abdullah bin Saud and other members of his family were captured. The captives were sent to Istanbul where Shaykh al-Islam Mustafa Asim Effendi issued a fatwa for their execution because they were guilty of spreading corruption on earth (this is the punishment prescribed in the noble Qur’an).
The Ottoman sultan was so contemptuous of the Wahhabi teachings that according to reports, along with other public humiliations, he forced them to listen to the lute (the Wahhabis forbid all forms of music). The Sultan was furious at the so-called Wahhabi scholars’ declaring him an “infidel.” It resulted in gruesome forms of punishment. Some of the Wahhabi religious leaders were tied to the muzzle of a cannon and blown to pieces.
Since then the world has moved on but in the wake of the Syrian rebellion, bilateral relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey have become close. The common goals of the two countries such as overthrowing Syrian President Bashar al-Asad and containing the influence of Iran in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon have paved the way for a “strategic relationship” between the two countries. This, however, appears to be a marriage of convenience. The unpredictable developments in the Muslim East have proved that there are limits to this relationship. As we have noted in the previous issue of Crescent International, the possibility of the emergence of an independent Kurdish state in Syria and the unreliability of the Saudis in the face of the Russian threat have shown Ankara it is unwise to estrange Iran totally and that Turkey needs to keep some kind of a balance in its relations with the Saudis and Iran. Especially, after the nuclear agreement with the P5+1 group of countries, it would be foolish to move away from Iran.
That explains why Erdogan seems to have toned down his repugnant sectarian rhetoric. In his opening address as host to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation he stated, “I believe the greatest challenge we need to surmount is sectarianism. My religion is not that of Sunnis, or Shi‘is. My religion is Islam… Sectarianism is the biggest source of danger facing the Muslim world. We must unite to solve this problem ourselves.”
Erdogan seems to have realized the importance of keeping friendly relations with Iran and has considerably toned down his anti-Iran rhetoric in the last few months. Instead he is eager to focus on the unity and brotherhood of the Muslim world. But make no mistake! Such drastic change of policy should not be taken as indication of genuine transformation in the AKP’s destructive foreign policy. It is a forced change that is dictated by the success of Iran. Erdogan and AKP-ruled Turkey are no different than a secular nation-state. This is what the late Dr. Kalim Siddiqui repeatedly repudiated in his writings as a Western-imposed construct. Turkey under Erdogan thus acts in accordance with its so-called “national interest.” And the “national interest” dictates that Ankara pursue friendly relations with Tehran.
The same “national interest” also dictates Turkey to rebuild its relations with Israel. This is precisely the reason why Turkish diplomats have been working hard behind the scenes to initiate rapprochement with Israel. Turkey’s relations with the US have also deteriorated since 2012 due to Ankara’s indirect support for ISIS and direct support for al-Qaeda affiliate terrorist groups in Syria. Turkey’s disruptive behaviour has angered the US considerably. For instance, President Barack Obama was reluctant to meet Erdogan when the latter visited the US to attend a Nuclear Security Summit last month.
Owing to intense diplomatic efforts (one should also take the Zionist lobby’s campaign on behalf of Turkey into consideration), Obama ultimately agreed to meet him, but informally. Further, the US media’s negative coverage of Erdogan was a strong indication of how bad relations between the two countries have become. Some mainstream media outlets were extremely critical of Erdogan and did not hesitate to call him a “dictator.” In the face of such mounting difficulties, the AKP considers Israel a useful tool to help Turkey rebuild its relations with the US. In accordance with this strategy, Erdogan held a meeting with Zionist lobby groups, including the notorious AIPAC during his visit to the US.
According to a report in The Times of Israel (April 16, 2016), Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz who is reportedly close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, most of the issues between the two countries have been resolved. A reconciliation agreement and deal will likely be finalised soon. Turkish government sources did not deny the report; in fact, the pro-AKP daily, Sabah, confirmed the news. Steinitz also noted that both sides “have considerable interest” in reaching an agreement.
Although Turkey and Israel have been eager to reconcile their differences, both sides also want to get the best out of the agreement. Thus negotiations have been taking some time to conclude. In order to soften the effects of domestic reaction, the Turkish side is pressing for easing the isolation of Gaza so that humanitarian aid can be delivered. Officials of the two countries first met in December 2015 and reached a preliminary agreement to normalise relations. This included the return of ambassadors to both countries. Israel consented to pay $20 million in compensation to the relatives of the victims of the Mavi Marmara raid. In subsequent meetings, they also talked about lifting the blockade of Gaza but Israel is adamant to keep it. Thus the discussions have now moved to easing the blockade instead.
In this regard Ibrahim Kalin, spokesperson for Erdogan, recently said that Turkey insists on the “re-establishment of conditions for humanitarian aid to Gaza” and supports an independent state of Palestine “whose capital is East Jerusalem.”
A strong indication of the imminent deal between the two countries is the visit of Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold to Turkey soon after the ISIS suicide attack of March 19 that killed three Israelis and one Iranian. Gold met with Turkish officials in Istanbul and thanked them for their assistance. Gold’s trip to Istanbul was the highest-level visit by an Israeli official since the Mavi Marmara attack in May 2010.
Further, Erdogan sent a letter of condolence to his Israeli counterpart — he also sent a letter of condolence to the Iranian president — related to the incident. On the same day, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also sent a similar letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The letter is the first high-level communication between Turkey and Israel since January 2009 when Erdogan walked away from a talk in Davos upon lambasting then Israeli president Shimon Peres.
Although reconciliation and subsequently rapid rapprochement between Israel and Turkey seem to be imminent, considering Erdogan’s relentless anti-Israeli rhetoric for the past six years, it would be very difficult for the AKP to sell such rapprochement at home. Therefore, it would be very interesting to see what kind of deceits and lies will spill out from the AKP spin-doctors.