All change

Observations on Turkey

On her recent Turkish visit Israel's new foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, requested a sudden addition to the usual round of meetings with politicians: a trip to the tomb of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. This unexpected homage to the father of Turkish secularism prompted a columnist in The New Anatolian to ask: "Does this have a political connotation?" Does it ever.

Israel knows very well that these are hectic days for Turkey, mostly courtesy of war in Iraq. Turkey's Islamists, embodied in the ruling Justice and Development Party, and its secularists, represented in their purest if least democratic form by the army, are wrestling for the Turkish soul.

The old certainty was that co-operation with the United States and its Israeli ally was invariably in Turkey's interest; this has been shaken. Turkey welcomed a Hamas delegation after the Palestinian elections, opposed sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, and declared Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories "state terrorism". What is more, the chaos in Iraq is pushing Turkey closer to its usually hostile neighbours Iran and Syria - both of which America's neo-cons have pledged to overthrow.

The US has turned Iraq's Kurds into Turkey's best-armed community, and they are inching towards the formal statehood promised to them under the Treaty of Sèvres in 192o. Turkey, which blocked the Kurds then, will do all in its power to stop them now. Iran, fearing a nationalist response among its own Kurdish minority, is equally opposed.

Iran and Turkey see the disintegration of Iraq as inevitable, and neither believes the US is serious about controlling Turkey's separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The PKK long ago fled to northern Iraq, where its few thousand fighters often shelter with Kurdish villagers near the Iranian border.

After meetings in April between Turkish and Iranian security officials, Iran bombarded the Iraqi Kurdish village of Razqa with heavy artillery on May Day. The PKK then retreated to the mountain caves where Mullah Mustafa Barzani of Iraq's Kurdistan Democratic Party used to hide from Saddam Hussein.

Iran fears separatist movements within its borders - not only Kurds, but Azeris and Arabs - and believes the US is aiding them all. Turkey, complaining that the US allows the PKK to thrive in semi-independent Iraqi Kurdistan, has massed almost a quarter of a million troops near Iraq's border. If the Kurds seize Kirkuk's oil and declare independence after a US withdrawal from Iraq, Turkey is prepared to invade to stop them. And Iran will support Turkey. In April they announced that mutual trade had grown by nearly 40 per cent on last year and could reach $8bn by the end of 2006. Their joint security committee meets regularly. Common threats dictate common strategy.