How the Kurds Drove Turkey Back to Israel

T. Belman.  Yes, this deal marks the end of a feud on humiliating terms for Israel. But one is left to wonder if there is a secret deal in which, 1. Turkey will stop challenging the blockade, 2. Israel will turn against Kurdish independence to satisfy Turkey, 3. Both countries have agreed on red lines regarding Syria. Turkey will now reconcile with Egypt. But the problem is that Turkey is pro Muslim Brotherhood, where as Egypt and Israel, the opposite.  At the end of the day beyond the restoration of diplomatic relations, what will change?

And Two Other Reasons for the Deal

By Steven A Cook, DEFENSE ONE

There are three reasons why the Turks wanted the deal now more than ever. First, the Israelis have a lot of natural gas and Cyprus has a lot of natural gas. There have been signals all year that negotiations to find a solution to the Cyprus problem and reunify the island are promising. It seems that the deal with Israel is connected to the coming gas bonanza in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Second, Ankara’s approach to the Middle East has been an utter failure. Its bid to lead the Middle East after the Arab uprisings was based more on the self-reinforcing myths that AKP elites told themselves than their actual ability to drive events in the region. There was also little chance that Saudis, Egyptians, and Emiratis were going to allow the Turks to play the role they sought.


Between the summer of 2013 and rather recently, Ankara had bad relations with Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Jerusalem, and Baghdad—in other words, all the major capitals in the region. When Erdogan forced Davutoglu from the prime ministry on May 5, Davutoglu could be made the fall guy for Turkey’s regional isolation with few, if any, political consequences for the president. This is not entirely a stretch; Davutoglu was the architect of Turkey’s grandiose ambitions in the Middle East as an advisor and then foreign minister during the last five years of Erdogan’s tenure as prime minister. Then again, it is not like Erdogan did not embrace the idea of Turkey’s (and thus his own) leadership of the Middle East.

The third reason is Syria. This is the failure within the failure of Ankara’s entire bid for leadership in the region. That the uprisings-turned-civil-war-turned-proxy-war has created a zone of jihadi violence and an area of great power competition that has consumed Syria and obscene numbers of Syrians is an extraordinarily difficult problem. No country, including the United States, has managed to handle it well. The Turks should get credit for doing their best to manage the massive inflow of refugees, now numbering almost three million. Beyond that, Ankara’s Syria’ policy stands out for one bone-headed move after the other. Where to begin?

They believed they could convince Assad to reform early on in the crisis, they thought Ankara could coordinate and lead the Syrian opposition, they turned a blind eye to jihadis using Turkey to take part in the fight against Assad before actually coordinating with extremist groups, they were reluctant to allow members of the anti–Islamic State coalition to use Turkey’s airbases, they shot down a Russian bomber, and they failed to see how their unwillingness to join the fight against the self-declared Islamic State in order to snuff out Kurdish nationalism actually helped make Ankara’s Kurdish nightmares come true.

Of all these issues, the Kurds are driving Turkey back to Israel. The Israelis have long sought to maintain close ties with non-Arab groups and countries in the Middle East to mitigate Jerusalem’s regional isolation. This was the logic behind Israel’s ties with Turkey. The Israelis have long supported Kurdish independence in Iraq, an issue that used to be deeply disconcerting for Ankara, but not as much anymore given the close ties between the AKP and Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Now with the emergence of the Federation of Northern Syria—also known as Rojava, or Western Kurdistan—along a strip of territory running from the district of Afrin that borders Turkey’s Hatay province in the west to the border with the Turkish town of Cizre in the east, the Turks find themselves in trouble. Syria’s Kurds do not control all of that territory yet, pockets of which are dominated by rebel forces, regime forces, or the Islamic State, but it is only a matter of time. The Turks want to forestall any Israeli mucking about in the area and any declaration of support for Syrian Kurdish independence aspirations so they have decided to patch things up with the Jerusalem. More importantly, the Turks seem to believe that by letting bygones be bygones with the Israelis they will get a better hearing on their concerns about Syria’s Kurds from Rojava’s accidental patron, the United States.

In the American effort to turn back the Islamic State, Washington went looking for allies to do the fighting on the ground while Americans targeted Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s forces from the air. Iraqi and Syrian Kurds signed up—but not together—while the Turks balked. After two years, the United States regards the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, has an effective ally in the fight against the Islamic State.

Here is the problem for the Turks: The Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a terrorist organization that has been waging a war on the Turkish state since the mid-1980s, stood up the YPG after the Syrian uprising became militarized, and the two groups remain closely associated. The Turks regard the YPG and the PKK to be essentially the same group. From where Ankara sits, the United States— Turkey’s NATO ally—is helping to create a terrorist state on its border that could link up with the predominantly Kurdish portions of Turkey’s southeast, which are now under assault from the Turkish military and police in response to PKK violence. For some reason, the Turkish leadership believes that the Israelis and their supporters can help in this area in the same way the Israelis pressed the Obama administration to lay off the Egyptians. It is not a coincidence that Erdogan met with leaders of the Jewish-American community twice this past spring. It is not at all clear that the Turks will get the kind of support from Israel’s supporters in the United States that they would like, but Israelis are masters of realpolitik and in the competition between Turks and Kurds, they will likely pick Ankara. [I DON’T BELIEVE THIS]

For their part, the Israelis have gone from rendering their clothing over the breach with the Turks to lo maziz lanu (literally, “it doesn’t move us”). Gaza has been quiet, relations with Egypt have been quite good, ties with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have developed, Cyprus and Greece are new partners, and the Turkish leadership has proved themselves over and over again to be nasty anti-Semites and anti-Zionists. The same could be said of the Egyptians, but Turkey is hardly Egypt, which is second only to the United States on Israel’s list of priorities. Still, the Israelis are getting something from this deal: Hamas is leaving Turkey (though as Jonathan Schanzer recently noted, there is reason to believe this may not actually happen), the Israelis do not have to lift the blockade of the Gaza Strip as the Turks have long demanded, [SO WHAT IF THEY DEMANDED. THE BLOCKADE IS LEGAL.] and the Turks will be afforded a role in rebuilding Gaza, which some believe might bring stability to the area. The Israelis also get normal relations with Turkey, on Israel’s terms. [HARDLY]

What’s the Big Deal?

I am not sure this is as big a deal as it is being made out to be. Sure, it ends a period of estrangement for two American allies in the Middle East, which is a good thing. Beyond that kind of generality, it is hard to discern how much will change now. In the past, analysts have touted the potential for intelligence and security cooperation, but that seems unlikely. The Turks fought tooth and nail to keep the Israelis away from NATO intelligence data, blew an Israeli spy ring in Istanbul, and have engaged in various kinds of gratuitous nastiness, including disinviting the Israelis to NATO exercises held on Turkish territory and refusing flight clearance for Israeli military transport aircraft en route to Poland for visits to Auschwitz by the Israel Defense Forces.

Add to this Erdogan’s February 2013 declaration that “Zionism is a crime against humanity.” Taken together, the Israelis are likely satisfied with the agreement, but distrust and resentment remain.

On the Turkish side, this agreement came together as a result of Ankara’s weakness, which cannot sit well with the Turkish leadership. When the headlines fade and after the ambassadors are exchanged, Israel-Turkey political and diplomatic ties will likely look a lot more like they do now than current expectations suggest and remain vulnerable to developments in the Gaza Strip, Cyprus, and Israel’s relations with Kurds across the region. In other words, it is no big deal.

Steven A. Cook is Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is an expert on Arab and Turkish politics as well as U.S.-Middle East policy.

June 29, 2016 | 6 Comments »

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6 Comments / 6 Comments

  1. IL cannot abandon her position on the Kurds and cannot trust the monkey-sultan.
    He is far below apes and pigs.
    Both Obama and Erdo have adopted a failed ME policy. They are buddies in shame.

  2. @ Yidvocate:
    I do not believe we should return bodies to the terrorists. Lately off and on imperfectly we have stopped the practice. Ya’alon was inconsistent on it. Perhaps Lieberman will be better.

    The deal has benefits for Israel. The Turks do not hold the bodies and so we were not going to get them as part of this deal. That is the reality what was explained by Amidor. Emotionally there are things in this deal I do not like also. I think on a calculated basis it makes sense.

    That said with Erodgan in charge of Turkey we can never trust Turkey. Who knows with the security situation blowing up their faces maybe he will be replaced eventually to a more favorable leader.

  3. @ Bear Klein:

    Then explain why Israel returns terrorist bodies to Hamas. If the practice is to continue, the corpses should at least be wrapped tightly in pig skin!

  4. While the deal will not change any world order in the region, nor will it set off a honeymoon period between the two countries, there is no doubt that the diplomatic, security and economic benefits both countries will gain as a result of normalizing relations are worth so much more than the price of compromise.

    It is equally important to take note of the big losers in this deal. This list includes Iran, Hezbollah and even Hamas, which failed in their efforts to turn the crisis between Jerusalem and Ankara into an unbridgeable rift and to turn the diplomatic tension into a cold war that could have devolved into political, economic or even military conflict. Ultimately, Israel succeeded in preventing this dangerous possibility.

  5. Israel-Turkey intel effort yields arrest of Israeli Arab ISIS suspect near Syria
    DEBKAfile June 29, 2016, 11:40 AM (IDT)

    An Israeli Arab was arrested at Ben Gurion airport on June 10 by the Israel Police and the Shin Bet domestic security service on suspicion of attempting to join Islamic State in Syria. Ibrahim Hassan Yousef Agbariyah, a 23-year-old resident of the city of Umm al-Fahm, had not only left a note for his family describing his plan to join the terrorist organization, but also informed other relatives and friends. He then flew to Turkey where the travelled to the city of Gaziantep close to the Syrian border. However, thanks to close cooperation between Israeli and Turkish intelligence services, Agbariyah was arrested before he could cross the border, questioned and flown back to Israel. The arrest of the suspect was disclosed when he was indicted on Wednesday by the Haifa district court.

  6. This deal in Turkey is getting blasted by the opposition parties and some media. The blockade is still in place and Turkey has agreed to use Ashdod port. The same Ashdod port they always have been able to use. They are telling Erodgan you achieved nothing. Interesting Israelis are blasting Bibi. So no clear winners. Just like in many negotiated international diplomatic deals.

    Moreover, now that the deal includes a Turkish obligation to undermine any anti-Israeli terrorist activity on its soil, Ankara has lost some of its leverage over Hamas, underscoring yet again the fact that the thought Turkey would have any say on the matter of the Israeli soldiers’ remains was unfounded.

    The deal itself was not welcomed by Hamas, whose leaders are vexed with Turkey for buckling on their demand to lift the maritime blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip. As the blockade will remain in place, Hamas cannot see a way to mark any achievements for itself, and with no achievements to tout, Israel was in no position to ask Turkey to convince Hamas to yield to its demand.

    We have to try and not confuse the Israeli public’s desire to see the return of the soldiers’ remains with what can actually be achieve vis-a-vis Hamas by way of a deal with Turkey. In this case, this was an impossible demand, and there was never any reason to believe it could be met.