Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Israeli-Turkish Rapprochement - Joseph Puder

by Joseph Puder

Who exactly does it benefit?

Less than a week after Turkey and Israel resumed full diplomatic, commercial and security relations, terrorists most likely affiliated with the Islamic State struck the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, killing 42 people.  Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin condemned the attack and offered assistance to Turkey.  Rivlin wrote to his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying, “This cowardly, murderous act is an example of the most vitriolic hatred the like of which we are sadly seeing across our region, and the entire world today.” Rivlin added, “I take this opportunity to welcome the chance to renew our good relationship especially because our strengthened dialogue will greatly aid in our efforts against this threat, (of terrorism-JP), and because it sends a strong message to the terrorists that we stand united against hatred.”  It is yet to be seen whether Erdogan will similarly condemn Palestinian terrorists who murdered a 13-year old Israeli girl this week while asleep in her bed.

Israel and Turkey reached an agreement last Sunday (June 26, 2016) in Rome to restore full ties between the two countries.  This ended six years of hostility between erstwhile friendly states. The deal includes Israeli payment of $20 million in compensation to families of the Mavi Marmara who died in the confrontation with Israel Naval commandos, and it allows Turkey to send aid shipments via Israel’s Ashdod port.  Back in 2013, Prime Minister Netanyahu called on then Prime Minister Erdogan at the urging of President Obama, and apologized for the loss of Turkish lives on the Mavi Marmara.

Responding to critics of the agreement, PM Netanyahu assured Israelis that the blockade on the Gaza Strip will remain in place.  Netanyahu added that under the deal struck with Turkey, Ankara is committed to prevent terrorism and financing of terrorism against Israel from its territory.  The families of Israeli soldiers whose dead bodies are in the hands of Hamas, and the families of the two Israeli civilians held by Hamas wanted the agreement to include Turkey’s commitment to work on the return home of Israelis both dead and alive.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced that the deal will enable Turkey to deliver aid to the Palestinians in Gaza, and it plans to build a power station and desalination plant in Gaza.  Yildirim added, “To this end, our first ship loaded with 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in Gaza will leave for Israel’s Ashdod port on Friday.”

Turkey, one may recall, suspended military and intelligence cooperation with Israel and reduced its diplomatic ties with the Jewish state as a result of the death of nine Turkish citizens in May, 2010 aboard the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara.  The Gaza flotilla, organized by the ‘Free Gaza Movement’ and supported by radical leftist anti-Israel NGO’s, meant to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, which is controlled by the terrorist group Hamas.  Israel’s deputy Foreign Minister at the time, Daniel Ayalon, described the Free Gaza movement as “an outrageous provocation.”  Ayalon added, “The organizers are well known for their ties with global Jihad, al-Qaeda and Hamas, and they have a history of arms smuggling and deadly terror.” The UN Secretary General’s report on the Gaza Flotilla concluded that Israel was within its right to use force, and found the blockade of Gaza to be legal.

Given President Erdogan’s previous anti-Semitic, and anti-Israel expressions (“Zionism is a crime against humanity”), it is unlikely that he has suddenly changed his inherent prejudice.  The reasons for him to have agreed to the rapprochement has more to do with the geo-political situation surrounding both Turkey and Israel.  Both are faced with common enemies emanating from the Syrian conflict, namely the Islamic State, Bashar Assad and his Shiite allies, Iran and Hezbollah.  In addition, Turkey, much like Israel, is worried about Iran’s assertive military and political posture.  What’s more, the growing tension between Turkey and Russia, following the downing of a Russian jet, has made Erdogan feel somewhat friendless and isolated.  Moreover, Russia has been one of Turkey’s major trading partners. 

Israel didn’t have to apologize to Turkey for the clear act of provocation committed by the Mavi Marmara incident.  The Islamist Turks on the Mavi Marmara used violence against the Israeli commandos who sought to give them a warning, and shot their assailants in self-defense.  In terms of national pride, it is clearly Erdogan and Turkey who won on that score.  Israel has both apologized for the aggression on the ship, and the provocation created by the Turkish-led Free Gaza Movement. 

Yet, despite this unwarranted “moral” victory, Erdogan’s primary goal to break the Gaza blockade has not been achieved.  While Israel will process Turkish humanitarian aid through the port of Ashdod to the people of Gaza, Israel will not allow war material, or any tools that might be used for tunnel building to get through to Gaza.  That amounts to an Israeli victory.

Regional stability will benefit both Israel and Turkey while cooperation in the realm of military and intelligence might be a most helpful step in this direction.  For Israel, adding such cooperation with Turkey to the existing understanding with Egypt and Jordan, and with encouragement from the Saudis, will provide for a stronger force resisting the growing Shiite menace from Iran, and its Shiite allies in Lebanon and Iraq.  It might also have some positive repercussions on the Syrian conflict.  Turkey’s difficulties in obtaining certain weapon systems from the U.S. and other western powers would be ameliorated by the purchase of drones and other weapon systems from Israel.

Another significant benefit of the renewed relationship between Turkey and Israel is in the economic sphere.  The potential export of Israeli natural gas to Turkey is most meaningful especially for the Israeli economy, but also for Turkey.  Ankara has been purchasing over 50% of its gas supply from Russia. The recent tension between Russia and Turkey (they have been historical rival) as a result of being on different sides of the Syrian conflict, has created a problem for Turkey.  A commercial deal for gas sales between Israel and Turkey would diversify Turkey’s energy supply, and would positively impact on the relationship between Ankara and Jerusalem in other major areas as well. Experts now believe that in 2017, a gas deal between the two countries is likely to be signed. In addition to Israel and Turkey, the U.S. and Western powers will benefit from this renewed relationship.  It will strengthen the forces of stability in the region, which is a clear American interest.

The renewed relationship between Ankara and Jerusalem mustn’t however, impede on Israel’s close relationship with the Kurds.  Israel should continue strengthening its traditional positive relations with the Kurds, just as Turkey is likely to continue its support for the Palestinians and Hamas in particular.  Israel must support an independent Kurdistan just as Turkey supports an independent Palestine.

In conclusion, the deal struck last Sunday in Rome is beneficial to both Israel and Turkey, as well as to the stability of the region.  For Israel, no unacceptable condition have been imposed, yet the security and economic potential as a result of the deal, are most promising.  For Turkey, in addition to security and economic benefits, Erdogan can boast a moral victory as a result of Israel’s apology and compensation.  For Ankara and Jerusalem, the deal is a diplomatic boost for both nations. 

Joseph Puder


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