On Jan. 19, 2014, Turkish police stopped several trucks near the Syrian border. Upon inspection, they found mortars, artillery shells, and tens of thousands of bullets, all apparently destined for the Nusra Front, an al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. The Turkish government might have used the opportunity to allay suspicions it was playing a double game, but instead of arresting the truck drivers, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan imprisoned the policemen: The trucks belonged to Turkish intelligence.
NATO member or not, such actions have become the rule rather than the exception. Not long after, when journalists photographed delivery of Turkish arms to the Islamic State, Mr. Erdogan retaliated not against those aiding the ostensible enemy, but rather against their editors.
Turkey has a terrorism problem, but it has little to do with the followers of exiled theologian Fethullah Glen, whose extradition Mr. Erdogan seeks. The sin of Glen was independence, not terror. Alas, while Turkey’s lobbyists and diplomats cite Turkey’s decades-long partnership with the West, that Turkey is gone.
Consider the following:
In 2006, as the United States and the European Union sought to isolate Hamas until it agreed to abandon terrorism and recognize Israel, Mr. Erdogan not only reached out to the group, but also invited Khalid Mishaal — its most militant leader — to be his personal guest. The problem was not just Mr. Erdogan, though. When the Turkish leader subsequently invited Hamas political leader Ismail Haniya to Ankara, the terrorist group leader received a standing ovation in parliament. In subsequent years, the Turkish government’s outreach to Hamas — no matter what terrorism it conducts — has grown only warmer.
Hamas is not the only problem. In 2007, a train derailed in Turkey carrying hundreds of rockets apparently destined for Hezbollah; the train’s manifest said it was carrying building material. Turkish authorities swept the incident under the rug, but it foreshadowed Mr. Erdogan’s willingness to support anti-Western terror for ideology or profit, all the while assuring Western diplomats that he still sought a European future.
Nor are Turkish fingerprints only limited to terrorism in the Middle East. As French forces entered Mali to help that country defeat an al Qaeda affiliate’s takeover of more than 150,000 square miles in that country’s north, Ahmet Kavas, a Turkish ambassador and close associate of Mr. Erdogan, tweeted that “Al-Qaeda is very different from terror,” and speculated that the French troops were the real terrorists.
Then in 2014, shortly before Boko Haram terrorists kidnapped almost 300 girls from a school in northeastern Nigeria, a leaked recording revealed the private secretary of Turkish Airlines telling an aide to Mr. Erdogan about his unease at the airline transporting weaponry for Islamist militants.
Late last year, a Wikileaks dump of more than 50,000 emails belonging to Berat Albayrak, Mr. Erdogan’s son-in-law and Turkey’s oil minister, suggested that Mr. Erdogan’s family profited directly from Islamic State oil. Mr. Erdogan’s son, meanwhile, was photographed meeting with a man, who at the time was a U.S. Treasury-designated al Qaeda financier.
While Turkey coasts on its reputation from decades past — and dozens of U.S. congressmen and diplomats still pay lip service to Turkey’s role in NATO or its ties to Europe — Mr. Erdogan has fundamentally changed the country. He has shed any presence of political pragmatism and supports Islamist terrorism for both ideology and profit. Nor is the problem anymore just one man: Thirteen years in power have enabled Mr. Erdogan to transform Turkish society completely. The intelligence service, police and bureaucracy are under his control. The actions in which Turkey engages are not rogue operations, but deliberate.
Simply put, Turkey has become Pakistan on the Mediterranean. Its diplomats might say the right thing about waging war on terror, but its actions suggest the opposite. By any objective standard, the State Department should designate Turkey to be a state sponsor of terrorism. Maintaining the charade of Turkish partnership is dangerous: European intelligence services have recently caught their Turkish counterparts surveilling political dissidents in the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. Documents suggest Turkey may be engaged in the same behavior in the United States.
But isn’t Turkey a NATO member? Yes, but that organization should defeat terrorism, not launder it. Calibrating policy to an imaginary Turkey is easy diplomatically, but it is ultimately dangerous. It is time to face reality.
• Michael Rubin, Ph.D., is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of “Dancing with the Devil” (Encounter 2015), a history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes.
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.