Op-Ed by ELLIOT HEN-TOV and BERNARD HAYKEL in the New York Times
SINCE Israel’s deadly raid on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara last month, it’s been assumed that Iran would be the major beneficiary of the wave of global anti-Israeli sentiment. But things seem to be playing out much differently: Iran paradoxically stands to lose much influence as Turkey assumes a surprising new role as the modern, democratic and internationally respected nation willing to take on Israel and oppose America.
While many Americans may feel betrayed by the behavior of their longtime allies in Ankara, Washington actually stands to gain indirectly if a newly muscular Turkey can adopt a leadership role in the Sunni Arab world, which has been eagerly looking for a better advocate of its causes than Shiite, authoritarian Iran or the inept and flaccid Arab regimes of the Persian Gulf.
Turkey’s Islamist government has distilled every last bit of political benefit from the flotilla crisis, domestically and internationally. And if the Gaza blockade is abandoned or loosened, it will be easily portrayed as a victory for Turkish engagement on behalf of the Palestinians. Thus the fiery rhetoric of Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, appeals not only to his domestic constituency, but also to the broader Islamic world. It is also an attempt to redress what many in the Arab and Muslim worlds see as a historic imbalance in Turkey’s foreign policy in favor of Israel. Without having to match his words with action, Mr. Erdogan has amassed credentials to be the leading supporter of the Palestinian cause.