There have been two basic trends in Turkish politics since Ataturk abolished the caliphate in 1924. One was the Ataturk’s secular nationalism, whose main bastion was the Turkish army, bureaucracy and the secular intelligentsia. The second was a form of Islamism, whose traditional appeal mainly to poorly educated masses. For many decades Turkish foreign policy was dominated by the secular nationalists. Their aims were two-fold, first, close alliance with the West (principally because that was seen as the only way to built a modern, technological state) and secondly Turkey acting as the representative and protector of all the Turkic people in the world, which means not just Turks, but also Azeris,Turkmen (in Turkmenistan), Uzbeks (who are culturally but not ethnically Turkish) etc. It also lead to fictions such as the denial of the existence of the Kurdish people, whom the Turks referred to as “mountain Turks”, even though there is no doubt that the Kurds are a Indo-European people related to the Iranians and not to the Turks. (Actually, at least in Ataturk days, the official Turkish nationalist doctrine insisted on the Turks themselves being Indo-Europeans).
In any case, secular Turkish nationalism was naturally in conflict with the Soviet Union, (where many ethnic Turks lived), Iran (nearly half of Iranian population is Turkic), and, of course, Greece and Armenia (although actually Ataturk himself wanted good relations with the Greeks).Turkish nationalist also have always despised Arabs, and in fact a contemptuous view of Arabs, is still very common among secular Turks (I know this both from personal experience and from reading about it). For all these reasons secular Turkish nationalist found it very natural to ally themselves with Israel, particularly during the cold war, when the Soviet Union was the principal backer of the Arabs.
Turkish Islamism, long suppressed by the military, saw the world in a very different light. Essentially it aimed at some form of restoration of the Ottoman Caliphate, whereby Turkey was the political and spiritual leader of all Sunni Muslims (Iran was, of course, always a rival and enemy of the Ottomans). Thus for Turkish Islamists Israel could never be a serious partner, although the more pragmatic ones learnt that they could successfully exploit Israeli illusions on this score until the right moment.
For many years, Islamism was very much the underdog in Turkey. Thee factors combined to change this. The first one, was the demographic change in Turkey. As in many countries, the secular middle classes were having a lot fewer children than the religious poor and as Turkey’s politics became more democratic (due to the wish of the secular Turks to join the EU), the Islamists gained an advantage.
The second factor, was economic. Ataturk, who was a very able and highly knowledgeable man, shared the belief that prevailed in his days among many educated classes, in the superiority of state run or at least state directed economies. Like many, he believed that the Soviet model would eventually surpass the Western capitalist one. While the Turkish economy never became fully socialist in the same sense as those of the former Soviet Block, it shared many of the features and failings of one. When the economic failure of socialism became obvious, this fact was exploited by the Islamists in the 1980s - notably by Turgut Ozal, the main author of the liberalization of the Turkish economy and its subsequent impressive growth. In this way, the Islamists managed to achieve two things. First, the economic success of their policies gained them the support of the new middle class that benefited from it. Secondly, when transferring wealth from the state sector (and the secular bureaucracy) into private one, they made sure that the main beneficiaries where their own supporters. The result is that today the majority of Turkish private company owners support the ruling Islamist party.
Another factor, that should be mentioned, was the end of the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union. As the result, the Arabs lost their Soviet patron and the Turks their fear of the Soviet threat. This made the Islamist program seem much more plausible.
The Islamist have waited a long time before attempting to put it into practice. First, they needed to weaken the position of the military, which they seem to have successfully accomplished (thanks to the short sighted support of the US and the EU). But equally important was the role played by the US. The invasion of Iraq was used by the Islamists to turn most of the Turkish population agains the US. But the real “green light” to Erdogan was given by Obama’s apparent desire to abdicate the US role of a superpower. If there is no world superpower then there is room for new imperial powers, and Turkey and Iran both try to fill the vacancy.
This, in my opinion, is, essentially, what lies behind all these recent events. Personally, I am pretty convinced that Erdogan has badly miscalculated. First, both economically and politically Turkey is much weaker than its rulers seem to believe. Secondly, if the US really abdicates its traditional position in the area, the beneficiary will be not Turkey or Iran but Russia. The threats the Turks are now making are music to Russian ears - they will push many countries in the neighborhood, starting with Cyprus and Greece, into deeper Russian embrace. Russia has always enjoyed the position of the traditional protector of Christian (particularly Orthodox) people in the region from the Turks, and now pan-Slavism and pan-Orthodoxy can again play the role that they sued to play before the advent of communism.
Also, governments of many post Soviet “Turkic” states, such as Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, or Azerbaijan are very worried about Islamism and will be even more drawn to Russia as a protector.
It is hard to tell at this point what would be the best strategy for Israel at this point. Personally, I think it would be premature to antagonize the secular Turkish nationalists by forming an anti-Turkish alliance with Cyprus, Greece, Armenia (and also possibly Serbia and Bulgaria). Firstly, there is still a good chance of the secularist camp in Turkey making a come back. Secondly, Israel enjoys good relations with countries such as Azerbaijan, which would be difficult to maintain if such an alliance became a reality. Thirdly, any such alliance
find itself manipulated by Russia for its own interests. And lastly, the US is by no means, as yet, out of the equation. So at this moment I think the Israeli policy, which seems to to be basically “wait and see”, is, at this time, just right.