Turkey is important for Israel. And Ankara knows it

The flotilla raid has led to chilling of ties between Israel and Turkey. Despite of being the Muslim majority country Turkey has recognized Israel in March 1949.

Questions:

1. It looks like in the last two year almost everything gone wrong in Israel–Turkey relations. Do you expect a further worsening of relations between Turkey and Israel or both governments will try to find the way how to stop the deterioration of relationships?

2. How important is for Israel the fact Turkey is/was perhaps his only we could say ally in the Muslim world?

Answers:

Joshua Walker, Fellow, Transatlantic Academy, The German Marshall Fund of the United States

1. Indeed ever since Davos in 2008 which was triggered by Israel’s attack in Gaza that destroyed all of Turkey’s efforts between Israel and Syria, things have been going very badly. Most of this can be attributed to domestic Turkish and Israeli politics. Israel has become a domestic issue for Turkey and the prime minister has won a series of rhetorical points by continually bashing Israel. Just as the Likud party has made Turkey into a domestic Israeli issue. I think a certain level of domestic politicking is fine, but it is not in either countries’ interest to let relations be severed. Recalling ambassadors and expressing anger is one thing, breaking ties and stopping military-military cooperation or diplomatic exchanges is very dangerous. Turkey and Israel still share an institutional framework of allies that should be salvaged even if their short term interests have diverged.

2. I think Turkey is far more important to Israel than Israel is to Turkey. I think this can be seen by the muted responses from Israel to Turkey versus the overstatements and angry reactions from Turkey to Israel. Turkey is Israel’s first ally in the Muslim world and does not have the baggage of the Arab world along with being an EU candidate country, strong US ally, and NATO member. Israel on the other hand has less strategic importance for Turkey as it has become more a of an international pariah. In years past Israel was seen as being a Western partner and a pseudo-European state, now most European states openly criticize Israel and it has strained relations with the US. Having already lost the support of the Israel lobby in Washington DC, Turkey has little to gain from Israel these days accept for the animosity and hostility that Israel can heap on its enemies.

Ofra Bengio, Professor, Department of Middle Eastern History at Tel Aviv University

1. We are in the middle of the crisis so we cannot say in a definite manner how things are going to develop. However, it is possible to say the  following: relations have reached their lowest points in many years; a negative bilateral dimension was added to the relations; PM Erdogan is inciting Turks against Israel in his inflammatory speeches and the Turkish street is encouraging him in this; the manage done to people to people relations will take many years to repair.

2. For Israel relations with Turkey have been very important both because of their dtrategic dimension as well as because Turkey has been for long time an only Islamic country with which we had relations. Turkey is aware of this and takes advantage of the situation.

Gönül Tol, Director, Center for Turkish Studies, Middle East Institute

1. I think this last incident is clearly a turning point for Israeli-Turkish relations. Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs made it clear that the bilateral relations have been damaged severely. It will be quite difficult to repair the damage under current Israeli government which sees aggression and disproportionate use of force as legitimate foreign policy tools. Last incident drew Turkey into direct conflict with Israel due to two reasons: First, Israel attacked a ship carrying Turkish flag in international waters and killed Turkish citizens and wounded many. Turkey considers Israel action as an action directed against Turkey. Turkish people, non-governmental organizations, media and all political parties in Turkey condemn the attack stand behind Prime Minister Erdogan’s strong words. Second, Israeli aggression undermines Turkey’s peace-building efforts in the region. The relations between Turkey and Israel will remain strained if Israel does not take the necessary steps. Bilateral relations will only be normalised if Israel agrees to lift the blockade on Gaza.

2. Israel has been acting quite irrationally. Its own actions threaten the security of its own people. By attacking a ship carrying humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza, Israel put its most important ally, the US, in a very difficult position and alienated Turkey, its key Muslim ally. Israel needs Turkey more than Turkey needs Israel. Israel is isolated both in the region and globally. It needs Turkey to keep the balance of power in the region.

Mark Tessler, Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Michigan

1. I predict worsening relations.  Both will try to keep things from going too far and may have some success, but probably only limited success for at least a while.  I expect it to be quite a while before relations have any chance to get back to where they were.  It really depends on what the various investigations conclude, how Israel responds to these and to international pressure more generally, and how Turkey defines its strategic interests in the matter.

2. It’s very important to Israel, and that, as well as what to expect from the U.S., will be balanced against domestic politics in shaping Israel’s response to the crisis.

Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President of Research, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

1. This flotilla crisis is an extension of the deterioration in relations that began when Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan hurled insults at Israeli president Shimon Peres in Davos in early 2009.  Since then, the Turkish foreign policy has been one of rejecting Western ideals and principles and embracing Islamist regimes like Iran. It was hard to imagine things getting any worse between Israel and Turkey after Davos, but they have nevertheless.  If Turkey stays on its current course, we can expect a further deterioration in ties

2. Turkey has always been an important force for stability and moderation in the region, and has been an invaluable way for the Israelis to maintain ties to the Muslim world.  The disintegration of this alliance would be a blow to Israel, and a blow to U.S. interests in the region.

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