A genuine restoration of Turkish-Israeli relationsOn 7 April 2018 an article titled A Genuine Restoration of Turkish-Israeli Relations: A Realist set of Proposals by Ceyhun Cicekci, appeared in the bulletin of the Turkish think tank BILGESAM.
The common perils faced by both Turkey and Israel and the common attitudes they could adopt to overcome these, are scattered in the body of the article. There, the necessity of cooperation against the threats posed by the Assad regime in Syria, terrorism and Iranian expansionism is emphasized.
Apprehensions of the ‘strategic’ kind
From the geopolitical perspective of both Turkey and Israel, the principal common strategic threat is the Iranian expansionism. The other common ones are important too but they differ in the way they pose a threat to each one of them.
For example, the threat posed by the Assad regime to Turkey is basically evaluated in the context of Kurdish separatism. On the ideological plan, the Assad regime is the main obstacle in front of Turkey’s designs to establish a regional Sunni block.
Whereas, from Israel’s point of view the main threat posed by the Assad regime is the free hand it gives to Iran and its proxy the Lebanese Hezbollah on its soil. In other words, a secular Syrian regime devoid of Iranian influence would pose no strategic threat to Israel, save their territorial contentious in the Golan Heights which is of relatively minor regional importance.
‘Constants’ and ‘Variables’
The author relates to constants and variables in the nature of Turkish-Israeli relations.
He opines that the Palestinian issue is considered a “Cause célèbre” by the whole Turkish political spectrum. He cites an example from the left of the center secular Ecevit’s government which accused Israel of perpetrating a genocide to Palestinians and concludes that the Palestinian cause is one of the “constants” of Turkey in its relations with Israel. Is it really so?
The Turkish public opinion is easily shaped by leaders who may say anything one day and the opposite the day after. The Turkish press is full of examples proving this state of things.
Therefore, Israel thinks that the Palestinian issue is not a “constant” in its relations with Turkey.
Indeed, in 1986 during Prime Minister Ozal’s tenure, Turkey’s relations with the USA at the
Presidential administration’s level were impeccable whereas its relations with the Congress had hit the bottom owing to the negative influence of the Greek and Armenian lobbies on the congressmen. Turkey felt the urge to mend those relations with the assistance of the Jewish Lobby. Back then, the Palestinian issue was the least of Turkey’s concerns. The higher interests of Turkey and its survival prevailed.
Palestine as a lever of changing course in foreign policy
The Palestine issue became the course changing lever of Turkey’s foreign policy thanks to several developments among which the fixing of Turkey’s relations with the USA by the Jewish Lobby, the collapse of the Soviet Union which diminished Turkey’s threat perception from Russia, the improvement in the Turkish economy, and above all the access to power by the Islamic oriented AKP – Justice and Development Party, the priority of which was to base Turkey’s foreign policy on Sunni solidarity.
Southern Mediterranean Energy Cooperation
One of the headaches of Turkey is the Greek Cypriot regime’s energy cooperation with the Southern Mediterranean Basin’s economic zone countries Egypt and Israel.
The actual Turkish government’s ideological positions regarding Israel prevents it from getting Israeli gas over Cyprus or via a pipeline straight from the Israeli gas fields, encouraging Israel to find a common ground with Egypt, Jordan and even the Palestinian Authority.
Israel will pump its excess capacity to the Egyptian gas liquefying facilities and ship the product to Europe with tankers. Moreover, any additional production will be channeled to Europe via Cyprus and Greece.
The problematics of American presence and absence in the region
President Trump’s announcement that he intends to pull the US forces out of the region had the effect of a wake-up call for Turkey which realized the perils of facing Russia and Iran alone in the Syrian theater.
US’ presence in the region poses tactical problems for Turkey. However, its eventual absence made the potential strategic threats posed by Russia and Iran visible.
While the Turkish-Iranian divide is of a geopolitical nature, what characterizes Turkish-Israeli relations is the lack of trust and ideological differences. Whereas, geopolitics indicates that Turkey and Israel share common threats and similar interests.
Turkey’s Palestine/Hamas policies and its immediate threat perception from the Kurdish issue constitute the main obstacle for the conception of serious common policies regarding Iran.
Who has the key?
The precondition for basing the Turkish-Israeli relations on common interests is freeing it from the mortgage of the Palestinian issue. In other words, the key to the restoration of Turkish-Israeli relations is not in Israel’s but in Turkey’s hands.