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Relations between Turkey and Israel

Thursday, August 5, 2010 - 17:57

The bilateral relations between Turkey and Israel go back as long as 1949 — right after Israel appeared on the international political arena. Although Turkey was the first Muslim country to establish diplomatic relations with Tel-Aviv, today these relations are rather tense and contradictory.
Conflicts in the international policy vectors between the two countries were outlined after the victory of the Islamic Justice and Development Party (JDP) at the elections in Turkey. The party was headed by the current Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Despite the JDP’s policy is based primarily on the principles of moderate Islam and secularity, in fact it is obvious that the party tends to prioritized cooperation with the Muslim world. This tendency became especially evident through Ankara’s reaction to the military conflicts in the Middle East where Israel was involved, and where Turkey took a definite and peremptory position.
When Israel started military operations of the second Lebanon conflict and physically eliminated the Hamas leaders — sheikhs Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, the reaction of the Turkish administration in the person of Prime Minister Erdogan was very negative and Tel-Aviv’s methods of settling the Middle East problem were severely criticized as a policy inclined to “state terrorism.” Moreover, as Erdogan declared at the time, “it impossible to get rid of terrorism by means of terrorism.”
Analyzing the modern history of the Turko-Israeli relations, it becomes obvious that the periods of mutually profitable cooperation between the two countries have been alternated with the terms of antagonistic confrontation. In the mid 90 s, when both countries were surviving relatively hard times, the strategic alliance between Turkey and Israel was outlined. This alliance was prompted by the tense relations between Turkey and the neighboring countries — Armenia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Bulgaria and Greece, three of which were involved in constant conflicts with Israel. Tel-Aviv strove to get rid of political blockade, and Ankara aimed at acquiring high-tech weapons and armament that it could not get from other countries. With time, however, these relations — supported by the elites, but not approved by the people — started to aggravate. Thus, in April 2004, for example, the scheduled visit of Ehud Olmert to Turkey (he was the Minister for Trade and Industry in Ariel Sharon’s government) was declined because “the Turkish administration was busy with the Cyprus problem.” Nevertheless, the visit did take place in July the same year, but Prime Minister Erdogan refused to meet with the Israeli minister, explaining that he was on leave. It should be noted that during these two Turko-Israeli meetings that actually did not take place, Erdogan did find time to meet with the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia Saud al Faisal and with the head of the government of Syria Naji al-Otari.
According to international experts, this Ankara’s policy signals a desire to play a more important role in the Islamic world despite current military cooperation with Israel and the USA. Moreover, this demonstrative measure backs up the opinion that Ankara tends to pay much more attention to the policy targeted at the cooperation with the Islamic world rather than at the intensification of the relations with Israel. Of course, these events were positively met by Muslim countries that used to accuse Turkey of developing relations with Tel-Aviv. It should also be noted that this roundabout political maneuvers between the interests of different parties generated a number of difficulties for the Turkish side on the international arena. First of all, it entailed a non-ambiguous reaction on the part of Washington that had persistently endeavored to improve and sustain positive relations between Ankara and Tal-Aviv which is in fact a strategic partner of the US in the region. More debate was caused by the Turkish decision to refuse the US to locate a Pentagon military base in the territory of Turkey for the operations in Iraq despite a considerable financial compensation amounting to USD 15 billion.
Another factor that could not fail to aggravate the relations between Turkey and Israel was Turkish desire to develop the relations with the countries that traditionally conflict with Tel-Aviv. It should also be noted that this tendency arose at the times when both Tel-Aviv and Washington brought pressure to bear upon these countries, each having their own claims.
Despite the activity contradicting the USA, Turkey gained a mutually advantageous intermediary role in the problem of the Golan Heights between Syria and Israel, as well as in a number of other disputable problems in the Middle East.
Besides, the cooperation between the countries is not limited only to the aspects mentioned above. In 2008 the trade turnover between the two republics rose up to the point of USD 4 billion with over half of this amount being Turkish export to Israel. Moreover, military agreements are being realized in an intensive manner. Turkish Chief Department of Defense will purchase in Israel Heron pilotless aircraft. Also, an agreement was reached that Israeli specialists would modernize the Turkish Air Force fighter jets F–4 Phantom with Israeli technology. It is interesting to mention that even Russia, having an enormous potential and high technology achievements in this sphere, also plans to conclude a contract with Israel for the supply of pilotless aircraft to Russia.
Today the interaction and further steps of both countries in the process of international cooperation are under an attentive observing eye of the world community. The reason for such attention was the World Economic Forum in Davos that took place in the previous week. In fact, the forum was a well-awaited finale for the accusations on the part of the Turkish leader of the Israeli Cast Lead operation in Gaza. As we know, Turkish Prime Minister even raised a question of excluding Israel from the UNO. According to the Jerusalem Post, Israeli diplomats are inclined to share the opinion that Turkey cannot anymore objectively judge the situation and, therefore, cannot anymore perform the intermediary role settling the disputes in the Middle East. Only the USA is said to be capable of participating in the process.
It is obvious that these events signal another Turkish attempt to position itself as a regionally strong power. Turkey has established an international policy course that contradicts to the strategies and expectations of the allies, which to a great extent displays Ankara’s desire not to take anyone’s advice as to its own national interests.
Regarding the situation in the Middle East, as well as the relations of Turkey with the countries in this region in this perspective, we can conclude that Ankara, following its own interests in choosing partners and cooperation methods, relies upon “quantitative” method, simultaneously improving its quality. We assume that the basis of today’s Turkish international policy strategy is based upon the principle of establishing a “neighborliness belt” around Turkey which was introduced by the primary Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk. Besides, the analysis of the events lets us consider that Turkey is going to stick to the policy that will allow it to establish positive relations primarily with its Muslim neighbors. However, coming back to the Turko-Israeli relations, we should note that this tendency will hardly influence Ankara’s relations with Tel-Aviv, particularly in the field of obligations and agreements within bilateral cooperation in various spheres. It is obvious that Israeli interests are at stake, and in case the relations with Turkey radically change, this might negatively influence Israel first of all.

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