With a fast-growing economy and population, Turkey is rapidly developing into the hub of the Balkans and the Middle East. Turkey is now also increasingly entering Islamist waters. What are the consequences?
Turkey in a nutshell
Turkey consists of Asia Minor and a small (3%) European part. With this, the country controls the Black Sea and thus Odessa, Russia's only hot water port. All sea-going vessels have to pass through the narrow Bosporus that separates the European part of Constantinople from the Asian part. The surface of Turkey is twenty times that of the Netherlands, slightly larger than France. Turkish agricultural land is fertile and the country has a humid climate in the densely populated coastal areas. The absence of powerful neighbors in the immediate vicinity - with the exception of Russia - and total control over Syrian and Iraqi water supplies make Turkey's geopolitical position enviable. The economy is growing rapidly with growth rates of up to eight percent per year. The Turkish army is also well-armed and trained, given the ongoing civil war in the east of the country against Kurdish freedom fighters from the PKK.
Ottoman Empire collapse due to religious conservatism
Turkey was the center of the vast Ottoman Empire, which in its heyday stretched from Mecca to Crimea and Morocco. Innovation, bida in Arabic, is something that is viewed with horror within Islam, at least in the religious field. Because Islam is a political religion and any change is likely to clash with Islam's far-reaching impact on daily life, Islam tends to view change with suspicion. It is not without reason that the greatest movement in Islam, Sunnism, is founded on the Sunna, literally: 'custom' or 'tradition', from the inventor of Islam, Mohammed, and his companions. Any deviation from this Sunnah means a deviation from the ideal, so is viewed with disgust. The Ottoman rulers were not backward and realized that they had to modernize their vast empire in order not to be crushed by the once-lagging, but technically fast-progressing western neighbors. However, these attempts met fierce opposition from scholars of religion. The Ottoman Empire therefore did not survive the First World War.
Modernization by Atatürk
For that reason, the Turkish nationalist Kemal Atatürk abolished the religious foundation under the Ottoman Empire, the caliphate, and turned Turkey into an ethnically homogeneous Turkish state. This had the nice side effect that Turkey could claim the large areas where Turkish-speaking peoples live. Although he pushed through it disastrous socialist theories, with dire consequences for the economy, he did lay the foundation for a modern secular state. Turkish education is well designed and thus provides the framework for the factories and companies that are now rapidly growing Turkey. The introduction of European rules largely eliminated the crippling bureaucracy and corruption that had hindered the country until then. The entrepreneurial spirit of the generally hard-working Turks did the rest.
Erdogan, the new sultan
We now have the situation of an Islamist holding the reins of a modern organized country. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan now has something his Ottoman predecessors could only dream of: an ethnically homogeneous country, organized at a Western level, with a thriving, fast-growing economy. Especially compared to its western neighbors Greece, Bulgaria and neighboring Romania, the country is in excellent condition. Unlike in Ottoman times, when prosperity was generated by a small group of merchants, the sources of wealth are now spread all over the country. He also has a great influence there through the large Turkish diaspora in Western Europe. Of course, under an Islamist regime, the calcification will set in quickly, but that moment has not yet arrived. Erdogan knows he has to act quickly.
A historic opportunity
Turkey has so far cooperated intensively with the Israeli army. Both have a secular foundation and a common problem: the Arab world.
However, Israel is now no longer useful to the Islamist Erdoğan, who wants to make Turkey the dominant power in the region. That is why he wants to send the Turkish navy with a new Gaza convoy. If Israel bows, thus allowing the convoy to proceed, it will mean a loss of face for Israel and a huge boost for Erdoğan. The balance of power in the region will have changed definitively and the country can look forward to more blackmail. If Israel intervenes militarily, Erdoğan has a valid excuse in Islamic eyes to start a cold or even hot war against Israel and deal with his enemies within the secular army. In both cases his star rises as the leader of the Islamic world.
Israel's strategic position increasingly weaker
Israel is increasingly alone. The Americans, their main allies, have their hands full with domestic problems and the current American ruler Barack Hussein Obama, son of a Muslim, shows more sympathy for the Islamists than for Israel. The country can deliver a single devastating blow, but is unable to sustain a long war. Turkey has been at constant war for 40 years. Europe is weak and divided.
Erdogan will not be foolish enough to attack Israel directly - it could be a bad place to be in Constantinople or Ankara for decades to come - but in the geopolitical game of chess, Turkey's sphere of influence will increasingly move towards Israel. It will start with minor harassment, similar to the rocket fire from Gaza. Think of Turkish navy ships that constantly sail around in Israeli waters. Only if Israel makes alliances with countries in the same boat - Greece, Cyprus and Armenia - will it be able to withstand increasing Turkish pressure. History shows that decreasing the power of one great power and increasing that of another are a recipe for war.
Turkey too big for the EU
At the same time, the increasing size of Turkey is good news for Wilders and others who want to keep Turkey out of the EU. The more powerful and aggressive the country becomes, the less likely the other European countries will be to include the country in the EU. However, the question is whether Erdogan still wants to become a member of the EU. He will get his way in a different way.