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Once allies, relations after Israel's raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship are at an all-time low.
But with the rise of a new middle class that is sensitive to issues affecting the Ummah, or the Muslim diaspora, the priorities of the governing Justice and Development Party — brought to power in 2002 in large part by this same constituency — are shifting gears, translating into a decreased role for the military and a larger one for the public, business and civil society.
“The government is no longer taking orders from the generals,” Lale Kemal, a journalist who writes a column on military affairs for the Turkish newspaper Zaman, said in an interview. “They are more assertive of their own power, rather than the military controlling politics.”
The administration of President Barack Obama, concerned about the chill in relations between the two formerly strong allies, is now trying to mediate the conflict. Some analysts are hopeful that talks with the United States can bring an end to the standoff.
“The U.S.’s uneasiness with the strained ties will help push Turkey and Israel to reconcile,” Kemal said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a 45-minute discussion Monday with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in which “the Secretary encouraged the foreign minister to continue important dialogue with Israel because that relationship remains a vitally important one to the future of the region,” P.J. Crowley, a State Department spokesman, said at a press briefing.
Both Turkey and Israel have something to lose if bilateral relations get any worse. Turkey is hoping for help from the United States in its ongoing conflict with the outlawed Kurdish Worker’s Party, which has tormented the country for decades and cost tens of thousands of lives, and Israel faces the potential loss of its first and only Muslim-majority ally in the region. There is also the more than $2.5 billion in trade the two countries have shared since 2009.
The president of neighboring Syria, Bashar al-Assad, is also concerned about what the dissolution of relations between Turkey and Israel would mean for the region. Assad warned last week that the crisis could affect stability around the entire Middle East and undermine Ankara’s role in the region’s ongoing peace negotiations.
“The chances of peace grow slim, and the prospect of war grows,” he told reporters.