Commentary

Another Blow to the Israeli-Turkish Alliance

Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus

Following the release of the UN “Palmer” report on last year’s raid by Israeli forces on a Gaza-bound ship, Turkey has expelled the Israeli ambassador and recalled its own ambassador to Israel. The release of the report was delayed several times so as to give both sides time and space for a mutually acceptable outcome. However, Turkey’s demands for an official apology from the Israeli government, as well as its calls for an end to the Gaza embargo, were met with silence from the Israeli government, which claimed it had acted in self-defense.

Commentators and editorials in both countries and elsewhere have painted a picture that isn’t positive for either party, especially Israel. In Israel, the left-leaning daily Haaretz carries an article by Akiva Eldar, who believes that the “Turkey crisis is just [the] start of Israel's diplomatic tsunami…. With all due respect to Turkey (we haven't shown any; remember the low-chair affair), the Israeli people will survive even without an ambassador and deputy ambassador in Ankara. No disaster will happen if the United Nations we so disparage throws the Palestinians a bone and a few young men march toward the settlements. Our highly trained soldiers will charge, the settlers' dogs will jump them and all will be well. Right? Wrong. The crisis in relations with Turkey is a red alert of the attacks we're in for on the diplomatic, security and economic fronts....Turkey's threat to confiscate Israeli goods is only the first step. In the first quarter of the year Turkey imported around half a billion dollars in goods from Israel — only two other countries import more.”

The other major daily, the conservative Jerusalem Post, made known in an editorial that the ball is in Turkey’s court: “Israel has already voiced “regret” for the Mavi Marmara incident, as recommended in the Palmer Report, but was snubbed by Turkey, which insists on a formal apology. The government has also adopted the report’s recommendation to provide for the deceased and injured victims and their families by sponsoring a fund, but rightly balked at Turkey’s demand for compensation, saying that damages payments would amount to an admission of wrongdoing. As long as Ankara adopts a bellicose approach apparently aimed at riding the wave of anti-Israel sentiment so prevalent in the region, there is not much Jerusalem can do to facilitate rapprochement — except to stick to its position and wait for a change in Turkish diplomacy.”

David Essing writing for the right-wing IsraCast asserts that Turkey’s past struggles with the Armenians disqualify it from pointing a finger towards Israel: “Turkey's Islamist regime is now bent on augmenting its power and prestige within the region. Israel is its scapegoat....In light of developments, it appears that Islamist Turkey, a key ally of Syria until the recent upheaval, and still a firm friend of Iran, has taken a strategic decision to turn a hostile shoulder to the Jewish state....At this stage, the Turkish PM and his officials are posing as the new moralists of the Middle East, while adamantly refusing to acknowledge Turkey's genocide of the Armenians in 1917. Israeli governments persistently refused to call upon Ankara to acknowledge their responsibility in order not to impair relations with Turkey. This is particularly galling today in light of Turkey's decision to make Israel her scapegoat in order to enhance her image in the Muslim world.”

In Turkey, opinion is also divided on whether the current developments are detrimental to Turkey’s long-term goals in the region, especially with regard to its current struggle against Kurdish fighters. Ümit Enginsoy writes on the Turkish daily Hurriyet Daily News, the “rift with Israel may hinder Turkey’s anti-terror fight…. Turkey’s decision to sever military ties with Israel risks creating liabilities in Ankara’s fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, defense analysts have said. In order to avoid this outcome, they added, the move toward Israel must be coordinated with special post-sale arrangements on the status of already delivered weapons systems and other equipment that is still being delivered....In defense-industry deals between countries, there are usually clauses that define maintenance, repair and other post-sale services to be provided by the seller. But it is not clear what will happen to such deals following Turkey’s cutting of military ties with Israel.”

A staff report on the business daily Sabah also raised the issue of military and intelligence cooperation, acknowledging that both parties can suffer as a result of deteriorating relations: “Faced with radical changes wrought by the Arab Spring, both Turkey and Israel are desperately trying to adjust to the new political landscape in the region. But enduring ill-feeling resulting from the flotilla incident has ruined chances of the regional military heavyweights working together, despite the United States' efforts to encourage a rapprochement between two valued allies. And Erdoğan's stand on the Palestinian issue has held Turkey in good stead among Arabs agitating for greater democracy, notably in Egypt and more recently Syria. But Turkey has carefully avoided a complete breakdown in relations with Damascus. Both have benefitted from military intelligence and cooperation in the past, and Turkey has its own security concerns over a Kurdish insurgency in its southeast.”

For Soli Ozel the long-term consequences of the current crisis could be even more dangerous: “Turkish-Israeli relations are now charting a previously uncharted course. In the light of the third article about the sanctions referring to freedom of navigation, a serious hardening in the style of Turkish foreign politics has been introduced. When Turkey says it will take all the precautions it deems necessary for the freedom of navigation in the eastern Mediterranean, it is obvious that these are not words that will hang or should not hang in the air. Consequently, we may just as well witness a chain of developments that may even cause clashes between Turkey and Israel starting next week....The Israeli government, by taking the decision not to apologize, has made a strategic decision that risks severing relations....The two governments have conveyed the message to the world public that the interests of their countries conflict extremely. In light of all these developments in the region, it is highly probable that those two decisions will damage both countries to varying degrees, at different time frames and in different forms.”

Most of the commentary from the region is supportive of Turkey’s actions. The Lebanese Daily Star editorial explores the geostrategic implications and asserts that the fall-out is “Israel’s loss…. Israel’s insistence on not apologizing was merely the latest act of brinkmanship by an administration that, with the knowledge that it has the world’s richest country as its indiscriminate backer, continues to feel it can flout international law. Turkey might be a strategic opportunity missed but, in the eyes of Israeli officials, Ankara can go hang as long as Washington remains obsequious....Turkey has been bold in its recourse by punishing Israel for a characteristic foreign-policy slip up, and geopolitics has a way of producing winners from even the most losing situations. The interest and loyalty of Turkey in the Middle East is once again up for grabs. Israel’s loss could be the Arab world’s gain.”

The Oman Tribune editorial sees signs of “belligerence” in Israel’s actions: “Israel’s abject refusal to tender an apology to Turkey after a United Nations report on the deaths of nine Turks in an Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound ship is another example of the Jewish state’s belligerence and unilateralism....While Ankara’s posture inspires confidence towards a reconciliation effort, Tel Aviv is far from the start-line: it responded to the UN report by saying it regretted the loss of life during the raid on the ship and that it would work to mend fences with Turkey. If Israel is treating the UN report calling upon it to apologise for the death of the nine Turks with such disdain, how do these diplomats expect it to resolve issues quickly with Turkey which they believe impact the wider interests of regional stability?”

The UAE daily The National believes that the “diplomatic row with Turkey puts Israel on notice…. Turkey and Egypt have been poles of stability for Israel in the region, allies even when their own people condemned Israel for its treatment of Palestinians and occupation of their land. Those alliances, backed by the United States, have sheltered Israel from the consequences of its actions. That unaccountability may now be coming to an end….A major diplomatic rupture — almost unimaginable five years ago — now seems probable....A naval confrontation between the region's two largest militaries is still a farfetched scenario. But Israel has enough problems without warlike posturing from one of its few former allies. It is a symptom of a series of missteps in what is, thanks to the Arab uprisings, a rapidly changing political landscape....These are times of fast-paced change. As regional governments become more responsive to their people, Israel's long-term future depends on also coming to terms with public opinion. It has a very long way to go.”

Finally, the Arab News editorial is encouraged by Turkey’s recent shift toward greater engagement with the Islamic world: “Turkey might be intent on lessening ties with Israel in line with the popular sentiments in the Arab and Islamic world. Indeed, Erdogan’s stand on the Palestinian issue has held Turkey in good stead among Arabs....Meanwhile, as Turkey inches closer to the Islamic world, its decision increases the isolation of Israel, which faces turmoil in ties with another regional ally, Egypt, where long-time leader Hosni Mubarak was deposed earlier this year and where there have been growing calls to revoke the three-decade-old Egypt-Israel peace agreement....Ankara has left open chances for a change of heart either by the current Israeli coalition or a future government. But from the region’s perspective, it would be much better and more logical if Turkey, a key regional power with a large economy and the second-largest military force in NATO, were to side more with the Islamic world than the Jewish state.”

That the road ahead for the Israeli-Turkish relationship is bound to bumpy was underscored by news from a Haaretz report: “Some 40 Israelis on board a Turkish Airlines flight from Tel Aviv to Istanbul were separated from the rest of the passengers upon arrival in Turkey on Monday and were questioned at length by Turkish police, marking a highly unusual event against the backdrop of a deepening diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Israel….Foreign Ministry officials said in response that the event is highly unusual and serious, and said that many of the Israeli passengers called the Foreign Ministry and said they felt fear during the questioning.”

 


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