Thanks Erdogan for Israel apology billboards 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Umit Bektas)
For many years, the relationship between Israel and Turkey has been extremely
good. The close cooperation between the countries has been reflected in
diplomatic relations, tourism, military cooperation and security, including
joint military maneuvers and extensive defense trade.
Behind the scenes,
there has also been cooperation in the intelligence field. However, Operation
Cast Lead brought about a dramatic change.
relations began to deteriorate as a result of initiatives carried out by
Turkey’s leadership, supposedly in response to Israeli violence against
Palestinians. In reality, however, it was only an excuse Turkey used to cover up
its aspiration to become an influential player in the Muslim
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gradually began
taking more and more extreme positions and speaking out strongly against Israeli
policy. The peak came when the Mavi Marmara
flotilla attempted to enter Israeli
waters and the IDF used force to stop it. Turkey recalled its ambassador,
diplomatic ties were cut off and joint military training was canceled. There was
a total disconnect between the countries.
Erdogan needed to cut ties with
Israel, and to weaken Turkey’s secular military, so that he could strengthen his
position in the eyes of his Muslim constituents. He was also interested in
positioning Turkey as a regional leader. To do so, Turkey had to constantly
become more radical to keep up with Iran and Syria. Turkey’s demand that Israel
apologize for the Marmara incident, and Israel’s refusal to do so, was the
excuse Erdogan used to become even more extreme.
There are a number of
ramifications to the cutting off of security cooperation between Turkey and
The defense industry took the hardest hit. Israeli exports to
Turkey, including potential orders which were canceled as a result of the
crisis, reached hundreds of millions of dollars. And the commercial relationship
Israel had with Turkey was not limited to defense. Commercial, nonmilitary
cooperation was also seriously hit. Numerous projects, including upgrading
Turkish tanks in Israel, were canceled. Sensitive technological systems that had
previously been sold to Turkey were exported in much smaller quantities. Large
Israeli companies such as Elbit Systems, ELTA Systems, Elbit Systems
Electro-optics – Elop and Israel Aerospace Industries were hit the
The IDF’s operational readiness was also
Throughout the years, the IDF had benefitted from joint sea,
land and air exercises with the Turkish military. In addition, they jointly
planned operations that were carried out in distant locations, strengthened
cooperation with NATO countries and practiced scenarios that could only be
carried out with Turkish assistance.
The rupture led to an end to joint
maneuvers for which the IDF had no suitable alternative.
The third area
that was affected was intelligence.
Valuable security information
regarding technology and intelligence had been transferred between the two
countries over the years. This trade of information was the basis for the trust
that had been forged. To a large extent, this was a prerequisite for Israel to
achieve its goals. As relations with Turkey deteriorated, however, the fear that
sensitive security information might find its way to hostile or even enemy
countries grew. Security agreements were canceled and the alienation
Non-military commercial and legal interests were also hit.
Following the cut in relations, there was a steep fall in the number of Israeli
tourists who visited Turkey. Numerous lawsuits were submitted in Turkey against
Israeli individuals and senior officers, which limited their movement outside
In recent months, there has been a change in the Turkish
leadership. Erdogan realized that if Turkey wishes to be considered a regional
power bridging East and West, and to remain on good terms with the US, then it
would need to be more moderate.
At the same time, Syria, Turkey’s
neighbor to the south, is falling into chaos, which could put Turkey in danger.
Therefore, Erdogan has softened his tone and the atmosphere has become more
relaxed. Turkey’s goals have not changed, and it is still maneuvering in an
effort to gain status and power in the regional Arab leadership.
its need to remain close to the US and Europe requires that it watch its
The Turks received the apology they asked for, and the ambassadors
will probably be reinstated. Smiles may replace the angry faces, and defense
cooperation might even return to some extent. But the trend has not really
changed. Turkey must continue to walk on the thin line between its desire to
lead the predominately Muslim Middle East, and its need to please the West and
retain its image as a moderate country.
We in Israel are sitting right on
that thin line. Apologies like the one Netanyahu gave Erdogan are apparently
necessary to keep the thin line from breaking. But the future holds many more
difficulties in the relationship between the two countries. Turkey will not
alter its hawkish stance, yet Israel needs Turkey as a strategic partner. But
not at any price.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as
a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). The original article
appeared in Hebrew in Sof Hashavua.
Translated by Hannah Hochner