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The Israelization of Turkey

With the recent spate of terrorist bombings, should Turks worry about their country becoming the next Israel?

November 25, 2003

With the recent spate of terrorist bombings, should Turks worry about their country becoming the next Israel?

Only five days after waking up to a bloody morning in Istanbul, it happened again. The streets of Turkey’s commercial capital were once again dressed in blood, fear, panic and — most horrible of all — human remains.

First, they attacked two synagogues, killing 23 Muslims and Jews — and injuring at least 300.

They did it again five days later. This time, they attacked the British consulate and the offices of that country’s largest bank, HSBC. They killed 27 Christians and Muslims — and injured at least 450.

The attacks were the first of their kind. When the two car bombs exploded in Levent and Beyoglu, targeting the British Consulate and bank, the bad news was heard very quickly.

The first reports showed how panicked people in Istanbul were. They kept saying the bombs felt like an earthquake. I called a friend in Istanbul, worried she had been hurt. Thank God, she was all right.

But she conveyed the same anger and fear people all over Istanbul were feeling. She brought the street’s reaction to my ear on a cellular phone.

On Istiklal Street, which is very close to one of the explosion sights, people kept screaming "God damn you!"

Goddamn the ones who did it and brought fear and anger and loss of loved ones into the lives of so many innocent people.

This was not anything like the strikes of the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group. The fear was immediate and much stronger, as horrendous as those previous attacks had been themselves.

This time, however, it was different — both in the form and the reason why it had taken place.

The real fear is that the bomb blasts of November 20, 2003 signaled the moment of Turkey's Israelization. That is why people felt this different fear and much higher levels of personal insecurity.

Turks immediately started fearing a possible third explosion. People realized that — unlike the PKK's attacks — this was a much bigger, well-connected international terrorist network going after them.

Even before any official announcements were made, people knew it was al Qaeda’s work.

They knew that radical Islamic terrorists did not show any mercy, not even on a Ramadan day. These terrorists did not make any distinctions between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Isn't that the same fear they feel in Israel?

Day after day, whether there is a break of two days or a week-long interval, there is always at least an attempted suicide bomb attack — and the constant realization that the peaceful daily routine has been broken.

Isn't this the fear of the people in Israel — when they go to a bazaar or a shopping center — that they worry whether they will see the end of the day alive?

Isn't it one of the reasons why Jews in Israel have developed the custom of never leaving the home with a bad word to one another? They leave their home always with a kiss and a smile on their face — thinking it might be their last memory of their loved ones.

Some people have argued that al Qaeda did not attack Turkey — but meant to attack Jews and Brits living in Turkey.

Some argue that it was easy to carry out such an attack in Istanbul because it is a vulnerable town. I would argue just the opposite.

It was — and is — Turkey that has come under attack. But why Turkey? This is the key question. There is no single answer.

It might be for a very simple fact. Al Qaeda might want to send a message to Turkey saying that, “If you are a friend of my enemy, you are my enemy, too.”

Although Turkey did not support the war in Iraq, it agreed later on to send its troops. But no troops were deployed in the end — because the Iraqis preferred it that way.

Yet, Washington and Ankara did not become allies yesterday. Rather, they have been strategic partners for decades and staunch allies in NATO. There is also Turkey’s ever-closer cooperation with Israel.

Turkey was one of the first countries that recognized Israel soon after its establishment in 1948.

It has been keen to strengthen its relations with that country over the years and in April 2003, it signed an agreement to share its water resources.

According to the deal, Israel will be buying 15 million cubic meters of water annually from Turkey for the next 20 years. Since water is the region’s second-most important resource after oil, this crucial deal has disturbed the other Arab countries in the region.

But there is more to the question why Turkey was targeted — and why the attacks happened in Istanbul. Some 12 million people live in this beautiful city. It is the gateway to both Asia and Europe.

It is unfortunately a convenient place for terrorists to engage in such cowardly actions. Like it or not, it is truly a global city that mixes all cultures and religions — and carries the difficulties of such intersections.

Life is quite exciting in Istanbul — and, unfortunately, that makes it a very vulnerable city to such horrendous attacks.

But again, why Turkey? Turkey is the only Muslim and democratic state in the region. It is a country that challenges the concept of a “clash of civilizations.”

And today even when it is ruled by an Islamic-oriented government, its focus is on looking toward the West.

From the radical Islamic terrorist groups' perspective, that can only mean that even the Islamic government in Turkey is betraying the cause of Islam — and "dancing" to Western values.

So they are making Turkey pay to keep up with these values. Whatever the precise reason for these attacks, the fact is that, at the end of the day, there are 50 from each faith.

Muslims, Jews and Christians have lost their lives. Their innocent lives were extinguished in Istanbul, Turkey. Now that Turkey has come under attack by terrorists, it can only strengthen its people's determination in the fight against terrorism.