The downward spiral in Turkish-Israeli relations is not only an irreversible
trend, but also a lose-lose situation for both sides.
The two countries
are locked in a longterm dispute over Hamas’ role in the region – whereas
Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) views Hamas as a legitimate actor
in the Palestinian theater, Israel opposes Hamas’ control of Gaza, and neither
side will change its mind soon. This suggests an irreversible trend in bilateral
ties that does not bode well for either side, as Turkey and Israel will both
lose from the current stalemate.
After its establishment in 1948, Israel
enjoyed the comfort of having a close ally among the three “civilized countries”
in the region: Turkey, Egypt and Iran, representing the Turkish, Arabic and
Persian heritage of the Middle East, respectively.
Now, however, with
Iran and Israel in opposing camps, the Arab Spring and recent dramatic
deterioration of Turkish-Israeli ties are presenting Israel with a uniquely
threatening security environment. For the first time since 1948, Israel faces
the risk of not having one of the three “civilized countries” of the Middle East
as its ally.
In post-Mubarak Cairo, Israeli-Egyptian ties face their
greatest challenge since the two countries made peace in 1978. The outcome of
the forthcoming Egyptian elections is far from certain, yet it is very likely
that the Muslim Brotherhood will emerge as a power to be reckoned with in the
Egyptian polls this fall. Even if the Egyptian military stands for maintaining
ties with Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood will push for limiting those ties.
Accordingly, Egyptian-Israeli ties will continue to become more cold and tenuous
with each passing day.
Things are perhaps worse on the Turkish front.
Ankara’s September 8 warning that its warships would escort missions to Gaza
suggests that not only is Turkey no longer a trusted friend of Israel, but that
it has begun to emerge as the key regional actor opposing Israel.
first time since 1948, the two major states of the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey
and Egypt, could ally against Israel.
And for the first time since 1948,
Israel faces the challenge of not having a large Middle Eastern power as its
friend. In losing Turkey, Israel could also be losing the strategic environment
that it has cultivated since it gained independence.
TURKEY WILL also
suffer losses from the downturn in bilateral ties, if only in a more intangible
In the past decade under the AKP, Ankara has positioned itself
as both a regional actor trusted by all sides and as a player on the global
stage. This hinges primarily on Ankara’s ability to win the attention of
Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East, as well as position itself as a
responsible actor in the international arena.
Following these recent
developments, it would be far-fetched to say that Israel is likely to heed
Turkish advice, or that Ankara has earned a place at the giant’s table when it
comes to establishing and maintaining order in Middle East. Additionally, while
Turkey has been lauded for balancing its Muslim identity and non-Muslim world
politics over the past decade, the continued deterioration of Turkish-Israeli
ties will weaken this trend in the region.
Furthermore, if Turkey enters
a conflict with Israel, Ankara’s grand design to become a game-setter state
would be exhausted.
Turkey would appear to be a revisionist country that
squanders its power in overseas adventures – less like France, unfortunately,
and more like Egypt under Nasser.
It is ironic and telling that neither
Turkish nor Hebrew has a term for lose-lose.The writer is a Senior
Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and is the coauthor,
with Scott Carpenter, of Regenerating the U.S.-Turkey Partnership.