Turkey Must Be Isolated and Condemned. By Gregg Roman

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The Turkish parliament voted to accept Sweden as a member of NATO last month, but this should not distract us from how outrageous Turkish rhetoric and behavior have been under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Turkey is wildly out of step with other NATO members. Turkish language about Israel is unhinged. Erdogan accused Israel of carrying out "the most heinous attacks in human history"; equated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Adolf Hitler, giving Netanyahu the moniker the "butcher of Gaza"; and accused Israel of being a "terror state" that is committing genocide in Gaza.

On the other hand, Erdogan referred to Hamas as a "liberation group" and refused to categorize it as a terrorist organization. Turkish behavior toward Israel has been no less reprehensible and sets it apart from the rest of NATO. Ankara removed Israel as a favored export target to discourage Turkish companies from engaging in commerce with Israel. The Turks also assisted South Africa in that country's ludicrous case against Israel in the International Court of Justice, furnishing Pretoria with "evidence" of Israeli "genocide." When an Israeli soccer player, Sagiv Jehezkel, expressed solidarity with Israeli hostages, he was detained by Turkish authorities. Turkey's Justice Minister said that Jehezkel was under investigation because he had "openly incited the public to hatred and hostility" with "an ugly gesture in support of the Israeli massacre in Gaza."

When the United States and Britain launched strikes against the Iranian-backed Houthis, Erdogan sided with Iran and Russia, accusing the US and Britain of trying "to turn the Red Sea into a sea of blood."

How ludicrous. How disgraceful. When the United States and Britain launched strikes against the Iranian-backed Houthis, Erdogan sided with Iran and Russia, accusing the US and Britain of trying "to turn the Red Sea into a sea of blood."

Turkey's behavior is uniquely pernicious because it is a member of NATO and, therefore, nominally a steadfast ally of the United States and Western countries. It is one thing for Iran or Russia to say and do outrageous things. It is another for a NATO member to do so. However, under Erdogan and the AKP, Turkish policies are converging with those of Russia and Iran and, in the past, have even benefited ISIS – all directly contrary to NATO objectives.

Turkey has aided Iran in evading sanctions. Erdogan's confidant, Sitki Ayan, was sanctioned by the US Treasury for leading a "sanctions evasion network...that has facilitated the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of oil for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force." A Turkish banker was convicted for moving tens of billions of dollars from Turkey to Iran. Reza Zarrab, a dual Iranian-Turkish national, "may have helped Iran pocket more than $100 billion" in illegal transactions. Zarrab said in 2012 that Turkish officials, including within Erdogan's circle, were in on the scheme. Erdogan has cozied up to Russia, and he has said that he trusts Russia as much as he does the West. Turkish exports of military goods to Russia soared in 2023 while Russia embarked on a brutal war of aggression on Ukraine. It was Turkey's initial instinct to block Finland and Sweden from entering and bolstering NATO.

Turkey looked the other way and allowed ISIS fighters to enter Syria during that country's civil war. Turkish officials reportedly purchased oil from ISIS through front companies. Wounded ISIS soldiers were treated in Turkish hospitals. Turkey's human rights record is atrocious, another item that separates it from NATO members in good standing. The Turkish government ethnically cleansed the Kurds of northern Syria, cracked down on Kurdish rights domestically, and threw journalists it did not like into prison.

The think tank Freedom House categorizes Turkey as Not Free. Enough is enough. Turkey's membership in NATO is an embarrassment to the alliance and must be addressed. NATO cannot afford to go along with business as usual while a member's behavior and rhetoric are indistinguishable from those of Russia and Iran. While there is no provision to expel members from NATO, there are other steps the US should take to cold-shoulder Turkey.

The US must develop alternative regional security arrangements that reduce NATO's reliance on Turkey and develop diplomatic efforts with other NATO members to address Turkey's behavior collectively. The US must enhance relations and military cooperation with other regional powers to offset Turkey. Finally, and importantly, the US should monitor and diplomatically address Turkey's internal political developments that conflict with NATO principles, such as its discrimination against Kurds and the jailing of journalists.Under Erdogan and the AKP, Turkey is no ally. It is past time to recognize this and act accordingly.

 

Gregg Roman is director of the Middle East Forum. He previously served as an official in the Israeli Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense.

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