JERUSALEM, Israel – For years, Middle East observers have warned about the expansionist policies of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Those ambitions reach throughout the region all the way to Jerusalem.
"I think Turkey is the major emerging threat to the Middle East,” Seth Frantzman, executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, told CBN News.
Analysts like Frantzman say the world is witnessing a belligerent Turkey on the move.
"It's invaded and ethnically cleansed Afrin of Kurds, Yazidis, and Christians. It attacked last year in eastern Syria and attacked and ethnically cleansed Christians,” Frantzman explained.
“It's attacked Armenia now. It didn't do it directly, but it basically goaded Azerbaijanis into war. And it's also been involved in Libya and sent Syrian mercenaries,” he continued. “Also, Turkey's been threatening Greece every few weeks for the last six months; also, Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, UAE. I mean, it never stops."
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One advance came after a deal with Libya to get its Mediterranean water rights.
"The whole point of the deal was to, basically, use a very poor, weak Libyan divided government and get a deal for all these water rights. Which basically means that now Turkey is sitting astride what claims by Greece and the pipeline that Israel wants to build,” said Frantzman.
Erdogan telegraphed his intent to the world by converting the Hagia Sophia, once the largest church in Christendom, into a mosque.
Middle East analyst Mike Kerem believes the decision to convert the Hagia Sofia back to a functioning mosque is a sign Erdogan is trying to restore Turkey’s Ottoman past.
He explained for nearly a century Turkey preserved the Hagia Sofia, "Ever since the modern nations today in 1923, that mosque, that church, has been a museum – free for everyone to gather in.”
After that conversion of the Hagia Sophia, Erdogan set his sights on liberating the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Last month, he said "in this city that we had to leave in tears during the first World War, it is still possible to come across traces of the Ottoman resistance. So, Jerusalem is our city."
Frantzman believes the regional powerhouses of Turkey and Iran share the same goals.
"I think we have to admit the rhetoric from Ankara today is a rhetoric that looks exactly like the Iranian rhetoric and that, by the way, is exactly what the UAE and other friends of the US and Israel say, which is that Iran and Turkey are on the same side,” said Frantzman. “They're both religious extremists.”
Erdogan's aggression presents another problem. Turkey is a NATO member but isn’t seen as a team player. Recently it purchased Russia's S-400 anti-aircraft missile system and aligns itself with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.
"It's connected deeply into the European NATO security infrastructure and I think that presents a huge challenge. And I don’t know countries are going to extricate themselves from them,” said Frantzman.
Erdogan's regime is seen as hostile to Christians. Two years ago Turkish officials convicted and then released American Pastor Andrew Brunson on charges of aiding terrorism. Kerem claims Turkey now seeks to close its doors to Christians.
“Basically, his goal to cleanse Turkey of all non-Turkish Christians. Any Protestants, foreign Christians that are living, working in the land or involved at the Turkish church at all, they've been declared persona non grata and a threat to national order to national security.”
Given its dreams of a neo-Ottoman empire and Turkish nationalism, some believe Turkey might be as much of a threat to the West as Iran.