Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's harsh criticism of Israel's recent attack on Gaza -- culminating with his walking off the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos after angrily berating Israeli President Shimon Peres -- has made him a popular man in the Arab world. But analysts warn that, at least in the short term, Erdogan's actions could damage Turkey's aspirations to be a mediating power in the Middle East, particularly between Israel and its neighbors.
"The cost [of Erdogan's actions] was possibly the loss of something that was starting, but that hadn't matured, and that was Turkey's emerging role in the Middle East," says Semih Idiz, a columnist who writes on foreign affairs for the Milliyet newspaper. "Erdogan made his position very apparent, and it's hard to see how he will be an honest broker in this stage."
During Israel's attack on Gaza, Erdogan accused the country of committing "crimes against humanity" and said it should be barred from the United Nations for ignoring a Security Council resolution calling on the fighting to stop.
During the January 29 Davos session -- which also included UN head Ban Ki-Moon and Secretary-General of the Arab League Amr Moussa -- Erdogan responded angrily to Peres' defense of Israel's actions. "When it is time to kill, you know how to kill well. I know well how you kill children on beaches, how you shoot them," Erdogan told the Israeli president, wagging his finger. Erdogan also accused Israel of violating the sixth of the Ten Commandments -- "Thou Shalt not Kill."
Erdogan's performance earned him plaudits at home, where he was welcomed back as a conquering hero, as well as throughout the Middle East. In Gaza, several thousand gathered the day after the Davos incident to honor Erdogan at a rally festooned with Turkish and Palestinian flags.
The Turkish crescent and star flying over what had almost a century before been Ottoman territory was an important sign: Turkey's has been estranged from the region for decades, but recent efforts to reconnect now seem to be bearing fruit. Still, analysts warn that the mood on the street might not reflect that of the region's leaders.
"I think certainly, in the eyes of the Arab street, Erdogan is now very popular. But it doesn't improve his mediating role anywhere else but in Syria," says Henri Barkey, a Turkey expert at Pennsylvania's Lehigh University.
Adds Barkey: "Now the Egyptians and the Palestinian Authority and the Jordanians and the Saudis will look at Turkey in a different light. I think in certain in Arab capitals and regimes -- and granted, they don't represent the public -- he has lost."
Erdogan's rhetoric may have been especially costly, experts warn, in terms of Turkey's continuing role in working to bring Israel and Syria together. Playing on its good relations with both countries, Ankara promoted indirect talks between Israel and Syria during the last year. It was hoped that Ankara's initiative would lead to direct peace negotiations. But now the chances of such talks taking place have dimmed considerably.
According to Alon Liel, a former Israeli diplomat in Turkey and chairman of the Israel-Syria Peace Society, a group working towards the resumption of talks between the two countries, the likely creation of a new government following the upcoming February 10 elections in Israel means that, from Jerusalem's perspective, "The existing mechanism [for the Turkish-sponsored talks] has collapsed."
"From the Turkish side, the mechanism has not only collapsed, but we have entered a situation in which I have a lot of doubt that an incoming Israeli government will look at Turkey as a reliable mediator," he says.
"We took a big hit on the Israeli and Turkish side of the triangle, but we now have an American aspect to this that we didn't have before. Everyone is waiting for a signal from [US President Barack] Obama," adds Liel.
Erdogan has said that part of his anger at Israel stems from the fact that he believes Turkey was close to getting a commitment from Israel and Syria to hold direct negations, but the Gaza attack scuttled those prospects. Experts believe, however, the indirect talks had already reached a plateau before the war in Gaza. "The fundamental issues were not bridgeable by Turkey. For that, you need the United States," says Barkey.
"The ball was going to come into the United States' court anyway, so the current tensions were not a death-blow to the Israeli-Syria negotiations. The issue is that the Turks expected to be sitting at the table once the Americans picked up the ball, that they had earned it. The question is; have the Gaza events dealt Turkey out of this?"
Some observers warn that cutting Turkey out of the peace process, particularly when it comes to Syria, would be a mistake. Joshua Landis, co-director of the Center for Middle East Studies at Oklahoma University and author of the "Syria Comment" blog, says that Ankara's improved relations with Damascus have helped attenuate the link between Syria and Iran.
If Syria and the United States were to start talking, Turkey could act as a "handmaiden" for those talks, Landis says.
"Turkey is going to help rehabilitate Syria. That is Erdogan's entire strategy: 'It's not that we are siding with Syria and Iran against Israel. It's that we are going to help Obama. We are the key to the Islamic world because we are the enlightened Muslims. We can be the crucial go betweens,'" he says.
"There's a lot of power to that argument," he adds.
For now, there are signs that Ankara is trying to step back from Erdogan's fiery rhetoric. Speaking to reporters after a recent cabinet meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said: "We give special importance to our bilateral ties with Israel and we want to preserve ties with that country."
"We are now looking toward the future. Turkey is not targeting Israel and the Israeli people," he said.
But some observers expressed concern that, ultimately, the substance of Turkey's message -- that it can and should be seen as an important part of the equation when it comes to resolving Middle East issues -- is being lost in the way that it is being delivered. "For the long run, the style and the rhetoric of Erdogan are unsustainable," says Soli Ozel, a professor of international relations at Istanbul's Bilgi University.
Yigal Schleifer is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul.