In geopolitics, discerning observers know that relations between countries blow hot and cold. Nowhere is this more evident today than in the complex relationship between Turkey and Israel.
He definitely needs Israel badly because he can’t send any cargo or goods by Syria, so he is using the port at Haifa to ship Turkish goods to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.
For many years, Ankara was a surprisingly friendly regional partner with the Jewish state. Joint maneuvers, trade, and cordial public exchanges gave hope that the model could be duplicated eventually with Israel’s Middle East neighbors.
Then came the infamous “flotilla raid” of May 2010. Critics of Israeli policies regarding the Palestinians—including key religious leaders—boarded six vessels as part of the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla,” ostensibly carrying humanitarian aid. Israel worried about terrorist activity.
Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara and were confronted by attackers. In the ensuing struggle, nine people were killed. Israel was widely condemned by the international community and recently during a phone call between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister Recap Tayyip Erdogan, an apology was forthcoming from Jerusalem.
Although Erdogan has seemingly taken Turkey in the direction of strengthening Islamic agendas, international observers have taken the conversation between the two men as a very hopeful sign.
As one who has intimate knowledge of the situation, former Israeli Ambassador to Turkey Uri Bar-Ner, has revealed some little-known insights that could be construed as silver linings in the complex Turkish-Israeli relationship. Bar-Ner points to the current political unrest in Turkey as an opening:
“As far as Israel is concerned, Israel is not mentioned at all in the present crisis; we are not part of it. He [Erdogan] and his foreign minister did not use Israel in any way in the present crisis.”
This refers to a tidal wave of protests arising largely from disaffected secularists in Turkey who are chafing under Erdogan’s moves toward a more autocratic regime. On Monday, Reuters reported that Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the government might call out troops to quell the unrest:
“In Istanbul, the cradle of protests that have presented Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan with the greatest public challenge to his 10-year leadership, several hundred union members also marched in sympathy with anti-government demonstrations.”
Bar-Ner said that “What happened in the last few months is that they [Turkish government] have imposed rules that interfere with the personal lives of the people [such as Erdogan’s bizarre directive that women have three children in order to increase the population] and when you take all of this collectively, it creates resentment in young people.”
Erdogan’s government is secure, although there is the usual jostling for power. Bar-Ner, however, is watching Turkey’s political situation closely:
“He has opposition, but the latest turmoil is not threatening his position. He is doing it all because he wants to change the constitution so he can have a two-thirds majority in parliament and to transfer powers from the prime minister to the president. He can’t be prime minister indefinitely [due to term limits] but can run as president. Erdogan wants to do what Putin did in Russia.”
All this means that whatever Erdogan’s personal agenda might be for his country, he—like most heads-of-state—is constrained by outside forces. This bodes well for repairing damage to Turkish-Israeli relations. Bar-Ner provides some detailed analysis:
“The situation with Israel is that after the apology for the Mavi Marmara…they are playing a very tough game in negotiations. Turkey wants a million dollars for every death in the flotilla incident. Eventually we will reach an understanding, so that Israel’s ambassador will go back to Ankara—I believe he will.”
The whole affair is definitely not one-sided, however, as Bar-Ner reveals.
“He definitely needs Israel badly because he can’t send any cargo or goods by Syria, so he is using the port at Haifa to ship Turkish goods to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.”
Bar-Ner said that trade between Israel and Turkey has quietly increased significantly, and that additional factors are at play in the thawing relations between the two regional powers.
“Erdogan is at war with Syria, and has tensions with Iran and Egypt,” Bar-Ner says. “So his foreign policy has to be ‘peace at home and abroad.’ He made a deal with and Iran and Cyprus. He made a deal with Russia to build cheap housing in Russia.”
Indeed, a whole host of problems are bubbling-up for Turkey, including refugees pouring over the border from Syria, tensions with Iran, Cyprus, and Greece, and NATO demands for the placement of anti-ballistic missiles on the borders.
Bar-Ner says that Erdogan also must manage the nuance of governing styles between himself and the new Egyptian regime.
“There are problems with Egypt because he is at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Erdogan says to them, ‘I am a secular democracy and I do what I want…why don’t you do what I do?’ But they [Cairo] don’t want that because they want
It also helps the balance of power in the region because, despite some perceptions, the U.S. is still an important player.
“The U.S. has one billion dollars worth of military hardware stored in Israel for the U.S. military, in case they need it,” says Bar-Ner.
At the end of the day, Bar-Ner says that in actuality, relations between Turkey and Israel are manageable.
“It won’t be the way it was, but ‘okay.’ Erdogan is only really friendly with Russia. He is at war with everyone else.”