Savir's Corner: Turkey first
The Netanyahu government must understand that our national security must take into account strategic shifts in the region.
Turkish PM Erdogan in Beijing Photo: REUTERS/David Gray
In the past, Israel has had three important allies in the Muslim world: Iran
under the shah, Egypt under Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, and Turkey under
various leaders including Recep Tayyip Erdogan – relationships that strengthened
our strategic position in the region, our deterrence and our posture in relation
to our main ally, the United States.
Today we are left with not even one
of the three most important Muslim countries in the region. Iran after the
revolution of the ayatollahs has turned to Islamic fundamentalism, aspiring to
combine a backward theocratic state with modern means of mass destruction,
including nuclear weapons, while denying the Holocaust and Israel’s right to
As for Egypt, though it is still committed to the peace treaty
with Israel even under the new Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Mursi, it
cannot be considered as a neighbor of Israel that shares and defines common
strategic interests. Egyptian public opinion is hostile toward us, because of
solidarity with their Palestinian brothers under occupation. The Egyptian
civilian leadership from the Brotherhood may be keeping a façade of a
relationship with Israel, due to an American dependency, but is not exactly
enamored with the Jewish state.
As for Turkey, Israel enjoyed full
diplomatic relations with it since 1992, a close economic and trade relationship
and a strategic relationship between the two strong armies. These relations have
gravely deteriorated, as exemplified by the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, in
which Turkey tried to break the Gaza blockade, and in the confrontation with the
flotilla, nine Turks were killed by IDF fire on board the vessel.
background of this crisis are two conflicting views of the desired solution to
the Palestinian issue, and Turkey’s intent to gain clout in the Arab
In secret negotiations that aimed to mend the relationship, which
took place also due to American encouragement, the Turks demanded a clear
apology from Israel for the killing of the nine Turkish citizens.
agreed only to express regret; Binyamin Netanyahu preferred national pride to
The same can be said of Erdogan.
prime minister used his confrontation with Israel and his support for the
Palestinians to enhance his position and popularity among Arab regimes and
mainly in Arab public opinion. The Arab constituency that has become more
relevant and influential in the aftermath of the Arab Spring greeted the Turkish
leader, during his visits in the region, with great jubilation.
trade remains at a high level, our relations with Ankara continue to
deteriorate, our defense relations are at a standstill and the Turkish
leadership does not miss an opportunity to criticize the Netanyahu government’s
handling of the Palestinian issue.
Israel has a fundamental strategic
interest to improve relations with at least one of the three important Muslim
powers in the region, and today this is most feasible when it comes to
Such an improvement of relations is also in Ankara’s interest;
while it has strengthened its position in the Arab world with the “help” of our
policies, if Turkey really wants to contribute to peace and stability in the
region, it must cooperate with Israel, and with the United States for that
This comes against the backdrop of our growing isolation in the
region. The Arab world, which is becoming more a world of the people than of the
dictators, is antagonistic to our policies toward the Palestinians, the ongoing
occupation and the strengthening of the settlers and the settlements. The Arabs
are also debating what kind of governance to choose and what the role of Islam
will be in their societies. So far, the post-Arab Spring countries are opting
for a relatively moderate Islam coexisting with strong security forces and,
sometimes, with young liberal forces (such as in Tunisia and Libya, and to a
large degree in the West Bank). The Arabs have two models to choose from when it
comes to the position of Islam in their society and their politics: the Turkish
model of relatively moderate Islam with a relatively pro-Western democratic
system, or the Iranian model of fundamentalist Islam in an anti-Western
theocracy. In the end, its either “Ankara” or “Tehran.”
And Israel must
also choose – go the Tehran way, attack Iran and create a pan-Muslim hostility
for decades while only postponing the Iranian nuclear ambitions, or opt for an
accommodation with Ankara as a way to strengthen our regional
Based on informal contacts I had recently with Turkish
politicians, including members of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, I
believe such an accommodation is possible and should be comprised by the
following elements: a) The Israeli government should officially express deep
regret for the killing of nine Turks on board the Marmara by IDF sailors. The
Turkish government should state that it sees in this expression of regret an
b) Israel should recognize in a public statement the
important regional role of Turkey in the Middle East, including in the peace
c) Turkey should recognize in a public statement the legitimate
security concerns of Israel in the Middle East, also vis-à-vis the Iranian
nuclear ambitions, on the basis of statements made by Prime Minister Erdogan in
his official visit to Israel in 2005.
d) Turkey and Israel should
continue to develop their economic relationship, including tourism and trade
(despite the crisis in the relationship, bilateral trade stands today at
approximately $1.5 billion).
e) Turkey and Israel should gradually renew
their bilateral defense relations.
f) Turkey and Israel should express
their common view and concern regarding the crisis and the massacres in
g) Israel should invite Turkey to play a facilitating role in the
renewal of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority,
possibly in Istanbul, on the basis of the Obama vision of a two-state
h) Turkey and Israel should hold joint talks with the Obama
administration with the view of developing a common strategic vision of the
The United States has seen Turkey as an important member of the
Western alliance since the Truman Doctrine of 1947, the Turkish adhesion to NATO
in 1952 and recently in talks held between President Barack Obama and Prime
Minister Erdogan, primarily on the Iran situation.
The US understands
what we must internalize – that the inclusion of Turkey into a
Western-orchestrated Middle East strategy vis-à-vis Syria, Iran, Egypt and the
Palestinians is of great significance in the effort to stabilize and pacify the
region. The regional choice is, to a large degree, between Ankara and Tehran.
Such an understanding is possible and important to both sides – Israel and
Turkey – as well as to the Obama administration.
The Middle East is in
transition toward more sociopolitical openness coupled with a greater political
role for Islamist movements. In this changing region, Turkey can, in many ways,
be a model state if it adheres to its democratic principles and pro-Western
positions, and restrains its anti-Israel polemic.
For Israel there lies
an important opportunity in a new accommodation of Turkey, provided we allow for
a Turkish role in revival of the peace process on the basis of new and realistic
positions of Israel on the Palestinian issue.
The Netanyahu government
must understand that our national security must take into account strategic
shifts in the region, which can be contended with, not through endless and
useless analysis, flamboyant hasbara rhetoric, or surrendering for tactical
political reasons to the settlers, but rather by thinking and acting
strategically and by structuring new strategic alliances.
The writer is
president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator
for the Oslo Accords.