ISTANBUL BLOG: Critics seize on Turkey’s silence in face of Israel-Iran crisis

ISTANBUL BLOG: Critics seize on Turkey’s silence in face of Israel-Iran crisis
There's nothing Erdogan loves more than a good yell at Israel – but only when the stakes are not high.
By Akin Nazli in Belgrade April 15, 2024

Ilhan Uzgel, a deputy chair in Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), has criticised the silence maintained by the Erdogan regime during the tense showdown between Israel and Iran, local news service Anka reported on April 14.

Even before Iran’s drone and missile attack on Israel at the weekend, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan was already cast in an awkward position by Israel’s invasion of Gaza to fight Palestinian group Hamas. Due to economic fragility, Turkey did not want to target Israel with trade reprisals. In recent months, Turkish finance minister Mehmet Simsek has been touring the Arab world and other parts of the globe, begging for FX.

As you might expect, Erdogan’s Islamist base is unhappy with their man’s silence amid the Israel-Iran clash. The outbreak of a war between Iran and Israel could only add to the regime’s woes.

“Turkey needs to mobilise international organisations, where it is also a member. Turkey needs to use diplomatic channels. The tension in this region needs to be reduced,” Uzgel said.

Uzgel was appointed to his post after the CHP’s new leader, Ozgur Ozel, took over the party management last November. A professor of international relations, he works on US foreign policy and US-Turkey relations.

Uzgel is a competent expert in his field. He is no fool. His appointment to the CHP management came as a surprise. In terms of talent, he remains an exception in the opposition party.

Uzgel also serves as shadow foreign minister. However, Turkey’s foreign minister, former spymaster Hakan Fidan, does not keep him very busy as Fidan does not say much.

“Amid such an important development in our region and a military assault launched directly by another state targeting Israel for the first time since the October War in 1973, amid such an escalation and such great tension in the region, we are astonished to observe that not a single official, especially the Minister of Foreign Affairs, has made any comment on this issue,” Uzgel also told Anka.

“The Republic of Turkey is one of the most important countries in the region. It is an indispensable part of the region. More or less, every development affects Turkey,” he added.

“Erdogan was yelling at the world leaders. He was throwing down the gauntlet. He went in very hard on Israel,” Uzgel reflected, referencing the president’s explosive barrels of angry rhetoric following the Gaza invasion. He added: “However, when we take both Turkey’s objective power parameters and the AKP government’s claims into consideration, such [subsequent] ineffectiveness and silence [after Iran’s attack on Israel] are neither understandable nor correct.”

“Our government should at least make a verbal statement. It is Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Hakan Fidan’s responsibility. He has a background in intelligence. He was head of [Turkey’s intelligence service] MIT. Maybe things were going on more quietly and more invisibly there, but foreign policy is not like that,” Uzgel also stated.

“I hereby appeal to Mr Hakan Fidan. Please make a verbal statement and take initiatives to reduce tension in the region,” he added.

“Look, our chairman Ozgur Ozel made a very meaningful statement. He expressed his concern about these developments and suggested a solution. While the leader of the main opposition party is making very clear statements, the silence of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the AKP government on this issue is perceived as impotence and inadequacy. Therefore, it is necessary to eliminate this image,” Uzgel continued.

If you turn Turkey into an ineffectual country, an unreliable actor in the international arena, no one will knock on the door of the government or Erdogan, neither as regards the Ukraine War, nor in relation to the conflict in Gaza, nor in response to humanitarian tragedies, according to Uzgel.

“No one hands Erdogan a microphone. This is not right. In foreign policy, a country like Turkey cannot act as if it is the leader of many regions and then move inward and move between two extremes,” he concluded.

Following Uzgel’s criticism, the foreign ministry put out a written statement on its website and social media account (@TC_Disisleri), while some unnamed sources talked to Reuters, a news service that all too often serves like the Erdogan regime’s PR agency.

During Fidan’s 13 years heading MIT, the biggest part of the intelligence service’s budget appeared to go on social media trolls. The trolls shared photos of a supposedly cool-looking Fidan in various circumstances wearing sunglasses or with his hands in his pockets. Also put out were edited videos showing Fidan while walking. The same comment was repeatedly added to the posts, essentially saying the confidence he projects is no joke.

Since the visual material and the motto were completely inane, the trolls’ efforts turned into the source of a popular meme joke.

After the furtive Fidan was appointed top diplomat, he had to talk on camera. His voice proved a real disappointment to the Erdoganist crowds.

Still, it is not possible to hear Fidan talking too often. The "no joke/joke" campaign has legs yet.

The analyst wanting a quick scorecard on Fidan’s time at MIT could perhaps make do with a single recollection.

Erdogan talked about how he learnt about the staging of the July 15, 2016 attempted military coup from his brother-in-law. Subsequently, he was asked whether he was planning to change his intelligence and army chiefs (the army chief was among those kidnapped by the coup plotters). He responded: “Don’t change horses in midstream.”

Sceptics took the reply as one of the biggest indicators that the failed putsch was actually a controlled coup, meaning the regime let it develop and exploited it.

Where MIT and Fidan are concerned, there’s no need to recall and delve into the long list of tragedies ranging from Syria to Libya.