Monday, June 27, 2016

The Turkey deal: added regional value - Ariel Bolstein

by Ariel Bolstein

It is important to ensure the renormalized relations with Turkey do not come at the expense of other ties cultivated in recent years.

The impending normalization of Israel's relations with Turkey is another triumph for Israeli diplomacy. This move carries far-reaching, long-term ramifications, and the reconciliation itself is very valuable, as Turkey is a key Muslim nation held in high regard by Muslims worldwide. 

Turkey will now have to relinquish its overt animosity toward Israel and temper its support of Hamas and other radical elements in the Arab sphere. Given its scope of influence, there is a good chance this position could permeate beyond its borders. 

The overall impression that even the great Turkey cannot emerge from a conflict with Israel victorious is very important. 

While initially Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's term in office seemed to favor Islamist elements -- the economy was booming, tensions on the Kurdish front ebbed, and he seemed well on his way to re-establish his country's prominent status -- the tides turned. Turkey clashed with every nation around it and suffered multiple diplomatic blows, making reconciliation with Israel a necessity. There is no doubt that Erdogan hoped Israel would beg to normalize relations, but to his chagrin, Israel stood its ground, and he was the one left cajoling it to strike a deal.

Turkey was the first Muslim nation to recognize Israel following its inception in 1948, and over the decades it became a very close ally. We are unlikely to see such warm ties again, at least not as long as Erdogan's AKP party is in power, but the impending reconciliation is enough to give Israel impressive leverage. 

This extends to more than the potential economic boon of having Turkey as a market for Israel's natural gas. A nation dependent on Israel for its gas supplies is unlikely to pursue further provocations such as the 2010 Gaza Strip flotilla. On the contrary: Protecting the Israeli offshore gas rigs will become a Turkish interest as well.

It is important to ensure the renormalized relations with Turkey do not come at the expense of other ties cultivated in recent years. Erdogan's enemies in Moscow and Athens should not fret over the deal, as Jerusalem values its ties with them as much as it does its ties with Ankara.

Israel can also further pursue developing its friendship with the people of Kurdistan. Erdogan is not a fully invested partner, and Israel can conduct itself opposite Turkey without unnecessary sentiment, on the basis of Israeli interests only. 

It is equally important for the Turkish leadership to understand that the time when it could do as it pleased in the Middle East is over. The reconciliation with Turkey does not, in any way, tie Israel's hands in fighting terrorism or Hamas. On the contrary: It has placed the burden of proof on Erdogan's shoulders, as any attempt he makes to support terrorist organizations or other agitating elements will not be tolerated. 

Normalizing relations with Turkey is a welcome move, but there are no guarantees. If Erdogan appears to abuse Israel's hopes for friendship and cooperation, Israel will know how to guard its interests, even at his expense. 

Ariel Bolstein is the founder of the Israel advocacy organization Faces of Israel.


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