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November 25, 2012, Sunday

The return of Erdoğan?

Starting from the “one minute” crisis with Shimon Peres, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has earned his fame as a leader who could stand still against Israel and be the leader people trust.

However, when the crisis in Syria erupted, Erdoğan's image as a tough leader tarnished. Especially after the Turkish jet was shot down by Syrian forces, Erdoğan has delivered speeches like a tough leader and stressed that Turkey has changed the rules of engagement toward Syria. Turkey declared that if Syrian aircraft get closer to the Turkish border Turkey would shoot them down.

Forget about not allowing Syrian aircraft to get closer to the Turkish border, a number of times they even violated the Turkish border -- which Erdoğan confessed had happened -- but Turkey could not do anything against them. Erdoğan had not kept his promises and had to quieten his tone of criticism toward Syria.

When Syrian mortar shells killed five Turkish citizens, Turkey responded back, but this did not satisfy people in the Middle East because Erdoğan's high-volume criticisms and Turkey's weak response to Syria had tarnished Erdoğan's image as the leader of the Middle East.

In addition, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt came to power and the Egyptian president took the lead in criticizing Syria and Iran openly, which Erdoğan could not do for Iran. Furthermore, Morsi mediated the cease-fire talks between Hamas and Israel, which boosted his political leadership in the eyes of the Arab public.

For Erdoğan to regain fame as a trusted leader, he used the recent Gaza incident and targeted Israel. While Erdoğan was chiding Israel and the West, Turkish diplomats were holding meetings with Israeli diplomats to find a way in Turkish Israeli relations, as well searching for ways to stop Hamas.

Now one needs to ask the following question: What did Erdoğan and Turkey gain from his high tone of criticism toward Israel?

For Turkey, I don't think we gained anything from Erdoğan's angry statements toward Israel. In order for Turkey to bring its allies right next to Gaza, Turkey needs to be on the side of Israel, building its criticism on these grounds -- one where it is friends with Israel. I don't think the West or Israel would care about Turkey's harsh criticism toward Israel at the moment.

In addition, Turkey should focus on its own problem, bringing Israel to meet Turkish demands with regard to the Mavi Marmara incident. Instead of focusing on solving Turkey's problems, Erdoğan continues to criticize Israel, an action that has no political weight.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry has its own institutional tradition that could find a common ground to solve Turkey's problems. However, Erdoğan's nonsensical stance is becoming an obstacle for Turkey and Turkish foreign policy.

Did Erdoğan gain anything from his rhetoric?

Yes Erdoğan, at least at a domestic level, has rebuilt his tarnished image and his supporters once again have an argument to make: “Erdoğan is the only Muslim leader who could stand still against Israel. Erdoğan even said to ‘one minute' to Obama.”

In the Middle East, yes, Erdoğan has appeared yet again as a tough leader against Israel and perhaps people in the Arab streets again appreciate what he said.

However, whether Erdoğan can continue to keep his positive image under such circumstances is difficult to predict.

For now, there are two “real” problems -- the crisis in Iraq and the crisis in Syria -- before Erdoğan, which cannot be solved by harsh anti-Israeli rhetoric.

Erdoğan needs to show his leadership skills to solve the Syrian crisis before the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, tarnishes his and Turkey's image yet again. And Erdoğan needs to show his diplomatic skill in solving the looming danger coming from the Iraqi territory.

I don't even need to mention that Erdoğan also needs to find a solution for the PKK state established in northern Syria.

One could easily argue that with his elaborate discourse, which resonated on the Arab streets, Erdoğan has conquered this domain; however, he needs more than just elaborate speech to maintain a positive image.

There are tough times ahead for Erdoğan to show his leadership skills.

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