Talking Turkey: a new power emerges in the Middle East

By Fox News Radio's Alastair Wanklyn in Istanbul

"Death to Israel!"

Nine Gaza activists were dead, and a 20,000-strong crowd was roaring with anger as it pushed down an Istanbul street.

But despite appearances, this was not a rally of Hezbollah.

"Most Turkish people are not anti-Semitic," said Faruk Reca, a Turkish writer looking on. "The Jewish people are friends for us; we just don't want war."

Turkey is one of the few muslim nations to enjoy diplomatic relations with Israel. The two have strong trade ties. Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said Turkey would not erase Israel from its address book. But he insisted Turkey's outrage must be acknowledged.

And it was. Three days after the ocean shootings, Turkey set a demand: that Israel release all detained Turkish activists. They arrived in Istanbul that night.

Turkey has a foot in both Europe and Asia. It is democratic, prosperous, and could soon join the European Union (although France and Germany oppose this).

Its relations are improving with Syria and Iran. Cross-border trade is flourishing, while sanctions-hit Iranian firms find it easier to operate with a Turkish address.

Yet Turkey has successfully defied the islamists, and the nightlife of Istanbul is as joyous and spontaneous as in any non-muslim nation.

The standoff over the Gaza activists reveals a new self-confidence. "If Israel wants to be clever, it will drop the Gaza blockade," said one of the protestors, who gave his name as Bari. "Otherwise they are losing their best friend."

Israel's best friend in the muslim world. And Turkey is a good pal to others too, this week hosting the leaders of Iran, Syria, and Russia at a regional summit in Istanbul. And yet Turkey is a Nato member. Just possibly it is now indispensable to America and Europe, a Middle Eastern nation that can walk and talk like both East and West.