Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Proceed with caution - Dan Margalit

by Dan Margalit

We must move forward -- but the way one would in a minefield.

Ankara's urgency in broadcasting that it is close to normalizing relations with Israel once again is testimony to the political distress that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gotten his country into. This is good news, whether it winds up revealing a switch from the hostility that has infected the discourse between the two countries since the Mavi Marmara affair, or whether it is premature to tell but still reinforces the idea of a new dawn of success soon to break over Israel. 

Normalized relations with Turkey is in Israel's interest. Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion sought to break the siege of Arab countries against the Jewish state by developing relationships with Iran, Turkey and Ethiopia as a way to approach Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. Now, the geographic situation is completely different (peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan and understandings reached with Saudi Arabia). Israel's current efforts, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are similar and may bear diplomatic fruit in the near future.

Still, we can assume that relations with Turkey will not immediately reach the height of cooperation seen when the country was ruled in accordance with the constitution was put in place by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The renewal of this relationship may also strike an awkward chord in relations with Russia and Egypt, both staunch opponents of the regime in Ankara because of its ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, and thereby Hamas. But as far as Israel is concerned, these are "rich people problems."

Of course, there is room for caution in the face of Turkey's passionate optimism, as "haste makes waste." Erdogan is hoping for the gas that Israel will produce, but for that to happen, the pipeline will require a costly extension, and Erdogan is again hoping that will come from Israeli or international investment. We must be careful, because the volatility he has exhibited in his relationship with Jerusalem could wind up in a renewal of the boycott. As soon as he reconciles with the Russians, he is likely to prefer their gas. Investing in the pipeline will increase Israel's dependence on Turkey, not the other way around.

The most important thing is related to Gaza. Turkey must stop serving as a sort of guest house for Hamas terrorists. It is essential that Turkey demonstrate its willingness to put an end to this. Turkey must also stop pressing Israel to build an independent port on the Mediterranean Sea for the terrorist regime in Gaza. Former Israeli Ambassador to Turkey Pinhas (Pini) Avivi mentioned Monday that this idea was accepted with certain restrictions in the early 2000s. It is possible, but it is not exclusively Ankara's business. 

International officials are looking for recognition for a step like this, which is in itself problematic. Israel would prefer Gaza be grateful to Egypt or the United States. Perhaps also to Turkey, but not exclusively so. We must move forward -- but the way one would in a minefield.

Dan Margalit


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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