What does Israel think about the Turkey-Saudi Arabia cooperation regarding Syria?
In the recent weeks, one of the most discussed foreign policy issues was the claim that Turkey and Saudi Arabia, with the support of Gulf countries, would launch a military operation to Syria in order to overthrow Assad regime.
Another player in the region aside from the Sunnites backed by Turkey is Israel, who is uncomfortable with Iran’s increasing power. Taking into account the relationship between Turkey and Israel which has been relatively tranquil for a while and the recent increasing military activity at the Israeli-Syrian border, we discussed how Israel would regard such cooperation. This time, we gave the floor to Israeli experts and experts who know Israel very well.
1-Do you think Israel and Turkey share the same interests in the region when it comes to issues such as containment of Iran and a change of Assad regime in Syria?
2-Accordingly, what would Israel’s stance be on Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s cooperation regarding the Syria issue? (Could there be a direct or indirect support?)
HAY EYTAN COHEN YANAROCAK - Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies
Neither Turkey, nor Israel wants a strong Iran in the region, particularly in Syria. Turkey faces a serious dilemma today with respect to its relations with Syria since bilateral relations relied too much upon personal ties between the two leaders. Turkey is in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power in Syria. No one can deny the presence of strong bonds between the AKP government and the movement. From Israel’s point of view, the Assad government is on Israel’s black list owing to the Hezbollah of Lebanon as well as Syria’s multilateral alliance with Iran.
However, Israel doesn’t feel itself close to any political actors, which are fighting the Assad regime, either. It is true that Israel welcomes the struggle among conflicting parties since it distracts their attention away from Israel. Yet, Israel is one of the countries which oppose the Arab Spring, sharing a similar perspective with Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. But it doesn't want the main branch of Muslim Brotherhood rule Damascus. Yet, on the other hand, it doesn’t want a strong Assad, either. In the short run, we can say that Israeli and Turkish interests overlap. However, in the long run, each party seems to be after a different political outcome.
Owing to the reasons stated above, I don't think Israel will openly support Saudi-Turkish alliance. At best, there can be an indirect support perhaps limited to the air campaigns Israel launched against Hezbollah to disrupt transfer of arms to Assad regime which Israel considers as a game changer. Even in that case these air campaigns will be presented as protecting Israel's security. I don’t think Israel will act as a part of an alliance.
The greatest obstacle stands in the way of Israeli-Turkish relations is that Israel doesn’t trust Turkey's sincerity in terms of mending bilateral ties.
That is why there is no substantial achievement in case of reaching a deal over compensation. As we all know, the apology came. Yet, as we all know the apology came on behalf of Israel. In contrast, there was no substantial positive step towards or a softening rhetoric towards Israel. According to Israel, Turkey wants to continue relations at the lowest diplomatic level. Therefore, Israel doesn’t struggle to improve bilateral relations, either. They believe that no matter how much they try, the harsh rhetoric embraced by the Turkish side will persist and is likely to trigger outbreak of a new crisis. That is why status quo is preferred. In order to fully normalize relations, the parties should take steps to build trust between the two parties. Mutual visits play a key role without a doubt. Unfortunately, neither Israel nor Turkey has a planned because of biases.
BENEDETTA BERTI - Institute for National Security Studies (INSS)
Israel's Syria policy has been mostly focused on avoiding to become directly involved in the internal war while closely monitoring the developments on the ground. The policy has also had an active component: with Israel setting 'red lines' with respect to the transfer of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah (and later on with respect to Hezbollah and Iranian presence in the Syria Golan). The reported (and unconfirmed) Israeli attacks in Syria should be read in this context.
With respect to the Assad regime, Israeli political and security circles have been relatively divided over the question of whether a regime change would be good for Israel. With the rise of ISIS, there is also a gradual concern for Syria's 'day after' Assad. In this sense, Saudi and Turkish efforts on Syria are not seen as problematic because Israel would like Assad to stay in power, rather there is a concern that both countries have been too lenient with respect to jihadist groups (the relatively loose border between Syria and Turkey is often cited as an example of these 'oversights').
MOSHE MA’OZ - Emeritus Professor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Despite their common interests regarding Iran and Syria, Turkey and Israel have also significant differences. Israel regards Iran as an existential threat; whereas Turkey has important interests in cooperating with Iran. Turkey wishes to establish in Syria a "Muslim Brothers'" rule while Israel considers the MB as terrorists.
In my opinion Israel has conducted a harsh policy toward the Palestinians as in the cases of the Mavi Marmara; in the last 3 of the Gaza Wars and with respect to East Jerusalem; all of which deeply hurt Turkish feelings and interest.
Israel’ political approach vis-à-vis Turkish-Saudi cooperation depends on a significant change in Israeli attitude to the Palestinian problem, namely renewal of Israel's peace process.
NIMROD GOREN – Mitvim, The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies
While Israel and Turkey both have interest in regional stability, they seem to differ on the meaning of such stability and on the way to reach it. Both countries are not interested in seeing a nuclear Iran, but while Turkey regards the diplomatic channel as the necessary one in order to contain Iran, the Israeli government is challenging this channel all along. It does not trust it, and refrains from backing the American efforts to reach a deal with Iran.
Regarding Syria, Israel does not call for the ousting of Assad, as Turkey does. Israel’s interest is to keep its border with Syria as calm as possible, and to prevent the shipping of advanced weapons from Syria to Hezbollah. There is a general sense in Israel that there are no real prospects for a stable regime in Syria anytime soon, and thus – the Israeli establishment does not see much benefit in getting rid of Assad, and does not have a sense of urgency regarding such a development.
According to reports in the media, there is some convergence of interests between Israel and Saudi Arabia, especially in regards to Iran. There are increasing visible signs of better Israel-Saudi relations – such as two joint panels (in 2014) participated by the Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal together with key Israeli figures (Amos Yadlin and Dan Meridor), and a recent interview by a Saudi to the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aharonoth. In light of this, I think that Israel should welcome Turkish-Saudi cooperation, not necessarily due to the concrete goals and content of this cooperation, but due to its prospects of bringing Turkey to the camp with which Israel can better engage. A more diverse Turkish foreign policy toward the Middle East may be of future assistance to efforts to normalize ties between Israel and Turkey.
OGUZ CELIKKOL – Turkey’s Former Ambassador to Israel
First of all, I do not think that Turkey has a containment policy regarding Iran. Turkey sees Iran as an important economic and business “partner” and wishes to continue its dialogue with Iran on a senior level. On the other hand, it is to the whole region’s benefit that Iran’s nuclear programme shall not gain a military aspect. As seen in recent mediation initiatives, Turkey advocates for a resolution through negotiations and other methods which will not involve the region more than it is already involved. Also, Turkey firmly believes that no country should be granted any privilege regarding nuclear issues.
There’s a common belief in Turkey that Israeli governments ruled by Netanyahu are indeed content with the polarization in the region based on sects and that they do not want the civil wars in Syria, Yemen and Iraq to end. Another prevalent belief in Turkey is that Prime Minister Netanyahu uses the current situation in Arab world as an opportunity to detract from a “two state solution” and stall the process.
General opinion is that ethnic disintegration of Syria and Iraq will please Israel. The fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu objects to USA while openly supporting Iraq’s ethnic disintegration supports this opinion.
On the other hand, Turkey and Saudi Arabia (and all other Gulf countries) advocates for Syria’s (and Iraq’s) territorial integrity and believe that the civil war within those two countries that is increasingly getting more complicated poses a risk for the whole region. Both Turkey and Saudi Arabia wish for an end to the civil wars resulting in the change of Assad regime in Syria and a new government in Iraq that would better represent the whole Iraqis. Persuading Iran for such a solution in Syria and Iraq instead of ostracizing Iran shall yield better results.