Ted Belman. This is a very important article.
As everybody knows, the once-flourishing Turkish-Israeli alliance has encountered serious problems during the past few years. To attempt to solve the issue, misunderstandings on both sides should be avoided. Turkey – which saved tens of thousands Jews during the Second World War – was never at war with Israel, unlike the Arab world. Ankara recognized Israel as early as 1949 and signed its first bilateral agreement with the Jewish state in 1958. In spite of all the Arab pressures, the diplomatic relations were never severed, either after the Six Day War or after the Yom Kippur war.
Zionism has historically attracted quite diverse supporters in Turkey, such as the ideologue of Kemalism, Tekin Alp (who was Jewish), president Celâl Bayar (1950-1960) and Turgut Özal, prime minister (1983-1989), president of Turkey (1989-1993) and even today, a reference for the AKP – the nationalist politician Alparslan Türke? (admirer of the IDF and of Israeli hi-tech), or even the ideologue of the secular far Right, Nihal Ats?z, who moved after 1945 to a staunch admiration for Jews and Israel. On the other side, David Ben-Gurion had the best of relations with the Ottoman authorities until 1914 and saw Atatürk as an example.
The alliance developed to a great extent from 1981 to 2000s in the economic, diplomatic and military fields, including during the first years of the AKP.
The bilateral treaty prepared by a secular government in Turkey and the Rabin cabinet in Israel in 1995 but finally signed by N. Erbakan (an Islamist) and Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996, secured access to Turkish air space for the IDF, reinforced the cooperation between the Mossad and the Turkish MIT and enlarged the access of the Israeli defense industry to the Turkish market. Even after the crisis of 2010, trade did not suffer: in 2014, Turkish-Israeli trade attained a historical record, a particularly remarkable fact in the context of global economic difficulties.
As a result, it does not make any sense to look for the origin of the problem in any (imaginary) “essence” of Islam.
It would be equally wrong to argue that the two countries found alternative solutions – they did not. Turkey is once again in conflict with Syria, the tensions with the Iraqi government are not a secret, and the diplomatic dispute with Egypt recently led to economic reprisals from Cairo: the three-year transit trade agreement signed in 2015 will not be renewed. As a result, the port of Haifa is the only remaining solution for the Turkish trucks transiting to Jordan (via the port) and to the Arabian peninsula.
Correspondingly, the negotiations of Turkey with the EU, even if they improved after the defeat of Nicolas Sarkozy, are certainly not as good as Ankara wished.
On the Israeli side, it is quite obvious that Romania, Bulgaria and Greece cannot replace Turkey.
Romania and Bulgaria do not possess the economic importance of Turkey. Greece is a completely devastated. Even more problematically, in spite of some incontrovertible achievements, such as the rapprochement with India, Israel is facing a certain diplomatic isolation, in addition to waves of anti-Semitism abroad. This is not to assert that Turkish diplomacy is now at its zenith, but Turkey is currently chairing the G20.
In other terms, if Turkey certainly needs Israel, Israel – at least in the current context – needs Turkey even more. As former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman himself noted, this country needs allies in the Muslim world – or, to put things more brutally, it is not in Israel’s interest to change the conflict with the Palestinian movements into a religious war. Correspondingly Israel is supporting Turkey’s Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP).
Not only there is no alternative solution for either side, but the Turkish-Israeli political problems are annoying for their main common ally in the neighborhood: Azerbaijan. This country is the main furnisher (40%) of oil to Israel, one of the key clients of Israeli hi-tech industry and, at the same time, the closest country to Turkey in cultural terms as well as one of the 10 main investors in the Turkish economy.
And needless to say, Washington is no happier than Baku. And once again, if the Turkish-American relation is not, at a political level, what it was a few years ago, the Israeli-American one is now facing problems unprecedented since 1967.
The fact remains that both Turkey and Israel need each other, and that is why reason should prevail in Ankara and Jerusalem. In Turkey, the nationalist MHP party urged the government to normalize relations with Israel (and Egypt). In Israel president Shimon Peres repeatedly advocated a conciliatory attitude toward Turkey. Such voices should be finally listened to. To achieve this goal, it is necessary to understand that the golden age of 1980s, 1990s and 2000s was too dependent on high-level relations, neglecting the exchanges between the two societies.
In this regard, tourism could be an interesting beginning.
Serap Merve Dogan is the director of the Center for Jewish Studies of Turkey and Maxime Gauin is a researcher at the Center for Eurasian Studies, Ankara.