Turkey: imperial ambitions?
Last Friday, a reconnaissance jet took off from Turkey, strayed
briefly over Syria, and never returned. Syrian anti-aircraft gunners
shot it down. Turkey and Syria have been allies for a long time. No
more, it seems. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said something
yesterday that was so warlike that he walked it back later. But
Erdoğan’s earlier acts and attitudes suggest that none of this was an
Turkey loses a plane
The jet ditched
in the Mediterranean after taking anti-aircraft fire from Syria. The
pilot and his observer are still missing; most people presume them dead.
The Syrians said almost at once that the plane had breached Syrian airspace, and the anti-aircraft gunners had shot at it as a matter of course.
At first, Prime Minster Erdoğan did not seem angry about losing the
plane. That changed over the weekend. First, he went to his fellow
heads-of-state in NATO. He used a channel that the North Atlantic Treaty
sets up for just this kind of complaint. Then yesterday he warned Syria not to come near the Syrian-Turkish border.
If any Syrian troops did, Turkey would order its troops to shoot at
them. “Don’t test us,” Erdoğan said in effect. The most ominous thing he
The rules of engagement of the Turkish Armed Forces have changed.
In other words: we will shoot on sight.
Later, Focus News Agency quoted Agence France-Presse as saying that Erdoğan walked that back somewhat.
As Turkey, the Turkish nation, we have no intention of attacking [Syria]. We don’t have any hostile attitude toward any country.
Or does he? Already American and other officials are wondering: what was that plane doing? Was it on a routine training flight, and did it merely stray over Syria? Or did Turkey send that plane over Syria on purpose? The New York Times
says that the American officials think that Turkey was spying on Syria.
They would have an almost perfectly good reason. Syria is in civil war,
and the Syrian resistance has camped out on the Turkish side of the
border. (And now Erdoğan has put those camps under Turkish protection.)
But the history of Turkey and of Erdoğan suggests another,
An Ottoman Revival?
Since September of 2011, everyone in the region who cares to know,
has known what Turkey really wants. Turkey was once the center of the
Ottoman Empire. That Empire lasted for more than 600 years and held sway
over much of Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and especially the Middle
East. The last Ottoman Sultan made the mistake of entering the First
World War on the German/Austrian side. The Turks lost that war, and with
it their entire empire and the sultanate.
On September 23, 2011, Israel Hayom wrote this pieceon the site t
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey. Photo: Loukas Papadimos/Prothupourgos tis Elladas, CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported License.
hat former Israeli Ambassador Dore Gold runs. In it, Hayom took note
of the anti-Israel rhetoric from Erdoğan. But he also noted something
else: Erdoğan was throwing his weight around in the region, and not
against Israel alone. The Russians in fact took note, and said bluntly:
Turkey wants to revive the Ottoman Empire.
Six days later, this piece came out in Time. Erdoğan, in an interview, almost boasted about Ottoman history and what was “beautiful” about it.
In short, Erdoğan has not only admitted but avowed that he would like to make Turkey a superpower like the old Ottoman Empire. Incredibly, most people forgot about that.
Until now. Last night, Bret Baier’s “All Star Panel” on his Special Report
program on Fox talked about Turkey, the shoot-down, and Erdoğan’s
answer. One panelist reminded everyone of Erdoğan’s ambitions. Then he
suggested that Erdoğan might really want to encourage the Syrian
resistance to camp out on the Syrian side, while still protecting them as he is now obviously doing. His goal: to see Bashir Assad fall from power in Syria. His further goal is to make Turkey the boss of the Arab lands, as it once was before Lawrence of Arabia changed that.
So maybe Turkey didn’t merely lose a plane. Maybe it sent that plane
to do more than spy, and certainly more than train. Might that pilot
have had orders to “stray” over Syria? A small recon plane,
plus bounties to the families of a pilot and his observer, might seem a
small price to pay to bring back an empire. And when Erdoğan says that
he “has no intention” to attack, he might be protesting a bit too much.
What would that mean for the region, and especially for Israel?
Certainly it would mean another complication. After all, the first
Zionist pioneers bought the land back from absentee Ottoman landlords.
But the rest of the world might want to take notice, if Erdoğan suddenly
starts talking about grand treaties of peace in the Middle East. Like,
maybe, a treaty for seven years?
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