ISRAEL AND TURKEY, FRIENDS NO MOREThe first of several News Dissector Reports From Istanbul.
By Danny Schechter. Author of the Crime of Our Time
ISTANBUL TURKEY, September 19: Let me begin with shvitz, a Yiddish term I believe that refers to special baths.
When the hotel I was staying at in Istanbul advertised that guests were welcome to enjoy the Turkish Bath in their basement, I took them up on it. There were two other blondish guys in their birthday suits sweltering in the small room when I got there. They were drinking beer and conversing in a strange language I later identified as Swedish.
I was in town to speak at a session on Internet freedom at the 17th International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA 2011) at Sabanci Center. They were there, as I slowly learned as engineers loaned out to the America's Westinghouse Corporation to build some nuclear plants in Turkey. Apparently, they were to have been built by the Tokyo Electric company that now has a nuclear disaster of iits own on their hands. They were either fired or quit the job in Turkey.
It was something about fears about safety and ongoing risks. Japan is out; the American nuclear industry is in.
So now these shvitzing Swedes have a new job in a country they don't know much about and also have, as they revealed to me, many prejudices and non-nuclear fears about.
We batted around the nuclear safety and storage issues raised anew by Fukushima but they and their Turkish government patrons---unlike the Germans--are moving ahead into the cul de sac of nuclear power. The money is there as well as the arrogant certainty that nothing can go wrong.
The Turkish government now has some other hotter than hot issues to contend with, so the nuclear issue is on the back burner. That government can no longer be easily categorized as pro-American even if they are members of NATO and big consumers of US imports. The reason: the popular government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogen--he won an amazing 50% of the votes in a recent election---has initiated its own independent foreign policy in this nation of 70 million and in his Eastern Mediterranean region.
Bolstered by a strong economy, in fact, one of the fastest growing in the world with an 8.8 percent growth rate, Turkey is spreading its influence throughout the world, including Arab countries that has always been suspicious about their motives. Erdogen visited Egypt, Tunisia and Libya last week and received a warm welcome for his economic help, political support for change, and as a champion of secular leadership in a Muslim country.
Beyond that, he is one of the most outspoken regional leaders criticizing Israel. According to the polls, his stance is popular in Turkey and the Arab world according.
The two countries had been close friends and military allies until Israel launched the deadly Operation Cast Lead against Gaza, just as Erdogen was acting as a negotiating go between Israel and the Palestinians. When Tel Aviv started blowing up Gaza, they also blew up those discussions and embarrassed the Turks and Erdogen.
When an NGO humanitarian group in Turkey, IHH, sent an a flotilla of aid ships to Gaza, Israeli special forces boarded the lead Turkish Ship, the Mavi Marmara and killed 9 people, 8 Turks and one Turkish American.
Not surprisingly, Turkey went ballistic after this massacre in the Mediterran. When the Israeli government refused a demand for an apology, Turkey sent the Israeli Ambassador home and broke off military cooperation. (What's not widely known is that there are many Israelis here, many coming for travel and business. Some Turkish Jews moved to Israel but retained family ties and are frequent visitors.)
Turkey has also been playing a close advisory and political support role for the Palestinians in the attempt to win a new status at the UN. Israel and the United States oppose that policy and a US veto is likely after Barack Obama speaks at the UN this week.