There is no contradiction between Turkish-Israeli ties and the Turkish desire to establish itself as a regional power.
Mavi Marmara Photo: Stringer Turkey / Reuters
I read with fascination that if some Turkish prosecutor has his way, my boss –
Amos Yadlin, the immediate past head of Israeli military intelligence – could be
put away for a minimum of 133 years, if not hundreds more, for his alleged part
in the Mavi Marmara affair.
Two years ago next week, May 31, 2010, in an
operation that went horribly wrong from the start, Israeli naval commandos tried
to take over the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship of a much broader flotilla of
supposed peace activists attempting to demonstratively break the Israeli
blockade on Gaza.
Instead of peace activists, however, the commandos ran
into violent opposition, mainly from a group of organized Turkish thugs who had
pre-boarded the ship secretly in southern Turkey to avoid detection, and with
the express intent of preventing any Israeli attempt to take over the
The result: nine people killed, eight of them Turks and one with
dual American- Turkish citizenship, when the vastly outnumbered and overpowered
Israelis had to fight for their lives.
The Turks demanded that Jerusalem
apologize. Israel expressed regret at the loss of life, but refused to apologize
for an incident not of its making, and things have gone downhill ever
After we had thought we had seen the worst, on Wednesday the
Turkish media presented us with the news of the prosecutor’s 144-page indictment
against four top Israeli officers at the time, sentencing them each not only to
individual life sentences, but another 18,000 years collectively for alleged
crimes against the flotilla.
May we only live that long.
thing is a joke of course, and still has to go through an arduous judicial
process before becoming a reality. Somewhat unfortunately, however, the
news came out on exactly the same day my wife pointed to a colorful fullpage
advertisement in one of the Hebrew papers offering Turkey as a tourist
destination for Israelis again. The price was low, the resorts great, it was
close. Why not? What sank in me when news of the 18,000-years-plus-four-life
sentences came out was a fleeting moment of hope the ad had stirred in me that
somehow Israel and Turkey could get back to the type of relationship these two
countries should be engaged in, rather than this petulance-driven dynamic in
play at the moment.
Israel has made mistakes with Turkey, and Turkey has
made mistakes with Israel, but the region has changed and times have changed –
now it is time to move on.
Israel and Turkey have more common interests
than quarrels. They share a strong interest in regional stability, containment
of Iran, fighting terror and a strong orientation to the West and NATO. The two
have benefited from military ties in the past, and Israel could not have bombed
the Syrian nuclear reactor [in September 2007] without Turkish cooperation in
one way or another.
Israeli fuel tanks were found in Turkey at the time
of the attack, leaving little doubt what route they had taken in getting
Not many months ago, the Turks could play off the Syrians and
Iranians against the West and Israel with great comfort. Syria has gone
up in flames, Assad has become a liability, the Iranians are on the defensive
and in retreat and Turkey’s strategic choices have become more
limited. There is only one camp for the Turks to be in, the West, the
same alliance Israel is in, and for all the same reasons.
entitled to take on whatever internal nature it wants, as long as this is done
within the norms of democratic behavior. The recent purges of the military,
always seen as the pillar of Turkish secularism, are internal Turkish business,
as long as the rule of law is respected.
Israel too is trying to define
itself as a Jewish democratic state. Who knows where we’ll be in a few decades
Turkey had reason to be angry with Israel over the Gaza
Operation. Then-prime minister Ehud Olmert made a visit to the country on the eve
of Israeli tanks trundling across the border, making it look as if the Turks had
given their blessing to the destruction that ensued.
But Israel has kept
its tongue on issues like the on-going Turkish bombing of the Kurds, and the
still disgracefully unsettled issue of recognizing the Armenian
If we are looking for arguments, there are many to be found,
but it would be hard to see how Israel and Turkey do not fit into the same
overall strategic context, especially in this region at this time.
is gone; Assad is, for all intents and purposes, is gone; Gaza is living its
life, if you can call it that, and there are much bigger issues at stake than
yet another attempt to drive a nail into a relationship that should be
There is no contradiction between Turkish-Israeli ties and the
Turkish desire to establish itself as a regional power. Israel would have
no reason to object. On the contrary.
Tourism and normalcy are
intimately bound. A story on four Israeli officers receiving life sentences plus
a mere 18,000 years does not add credence to the advertisement on the back page
for Turkey as a holiday destination for Israelis. The sentence will (hopefully)
end there, with the idiotic prosecutor who wrote it.
As for Turkey as a
tourist destination again, wouldn’t that be a delight?
The writer is a senior
research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv
University. His latest book, The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, won the National
Jewish Book Award in the History category for 2011.