Operation Cast Lead has dropped a wrecking ball on the Turkey-Israel relationship which had been so promising for both nations, but especially for Israel. It allowed the latter to point to a major Muslim nation with which it had good trade and military ties. The two countries appeared to have much in common with domestic guerrilla insurgencies that threatened their respective national security. Close relations allowed each country to point out that relations with the other indicated how moderate its own political, ideological and religious views were. Just as Turkey needed credible western allies in its effort to join the EU, so Israel needed allies to show it was not a pariah in the Arab world. It was a win-win for both sides. Until now.
The N.Y. Times wrote yesterday of the deep freeze into which the bilateral relationship has sunk:
Israel’s Arab allies stood behind it in the war, but Turkey, a NATO member whose mediating efforts last year brought Israel into indirect talks with Syria, protested every step of the way in a month of angry remarks capped when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stalked off the stage during a debate in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 29.
A minor correction in the first sentence: to say that Israel’s Arab allies “stood behind it on the war” seems an exaggeration. First, Israel has no Arab “allies” to speak of. Perhaps Ethan Bronner means to say “Arab nations with which Israel has diplomatic relations.” But that is different than calling them allies.
I don’t know to whom Bronner is referring. If he means Jordan and Egypt, I would say “standing behind” Israel in support of the war isn’t accurate. The citizens of both countries were overwhelmingly opposed to the Gaza war and said so. Their governments acquiesced in the war, which is different than saying they stood behind it.
Returning to the impact of the war on Turkey and Israel, here is the former’s view and eminently reasonable in my view:
Turkish officials argue that Mr. Erdogan’s stance against the war was simply healthy criticism — words of warning from a close friend who sincerely believed that Israel had gone too far.
“Turkey has lost its patience with the status quo in the Mideast,” said a senior Turkish official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. “Gaza is the bankruptcy of the military solution.”
The official added, “Israel is there to stay, and Palestinians are there to stay, and they need to be talking right now.”
…“The world has not respected the will of the Palestinian people,” he said in an interview with Newsweek on Jan. 31. “On the one hand, we defend democracy and we try our best to keep democracy in the Middle East, but on the other we do not respect the outcome.”
He also rejects Hamas’s use of violence. “I’m not saying Hamas is a good organization and makes no mistakes,” he said.
It is indicative of the distorted mirror through which Israel views the world that it does not understand that it has much more to lose in this relationship than Turkey. Why would any Israeli official making the following statement believe it would cause the least concern to Erdogan?
“He has burned all the bridges with Jerusalem,” said one senior Israeli official, who spoke anonymously because of the delicacy of the issue. “He won’t be seen as an honest broker anymore.”
If I were an Israeli prime minister losing the support of my main Muslim neighbor would be a red flag regarding whatever policy drove it away. I would be bending over backwards to repair the damage instead of thumbing my nose and taking my marbles home in a huff.
Israel mistakenly believes it only needs neighbors who accept it on ITS terms. While most relationships are bilateral with give and take each way. The Israeli version seems to be we take and you give. Once you stop giving what we want we walk away in a huff.
What a way to run a country’s foreign affairs.