The announcement by the top Turkish commanders of land forces, navy and air
force regarding their early retirement represents the final stage of the
military’s neutralization as a significant domestic player.
lies at the core of a silent revolution under way in Turkey since the Justice
and Development Party’s ascent to power in late 2002, which eroded the status of
the army, and cracked this and other aspects of Ataturk’s legacy. The process of
neutralizing the intra-national political power of the army is also important in
terms of foreign affairs and security, and in particular the country’s relations
The dramatic changes in Turkey’s armed forces killed any
hope of reviving Israeli-Turkish military cooperation. The indictments against
dozens of officers mean in effect that the army will make no attempt to
challenge the government’s Israel policy. Furthermore, following the success of
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party in eroding the army’s status,
the government will make a concerted effort to maintain this
Under the circumstances, the question arises whether there
is any point to Israel apologizing for the Mavi Marmara takeover. Turkey has
repeatedly stated that it will not forgo such an apology as a precondition for
rebuilding relations, alongside compensation and an end to the Gaza blockade.
The Turkish representative to the Palmer Commission, appointed by the UN
secretary-general to investigate last year’s flotilla, has tried to downplay the
extent of the disagreement, comparing the incident to an accidental spilling of
a cup of coffee, after which one must apologize and pay for the dry-cleaning
bill. The analogy is inaccurate for many reasons, but that seems to be the
extent of the apology Israel is currently capable of making – i.e., a limited
one focusing on operational failures.
Notwithstanding that such an
apology would not lead to significant changes in the security dimension of the
countries’ relations, there are factors that explain Israel’s willingness. These
factors will almost certainly affect the ties between the two nations in the
THE FIRST factor is American pressure.
between Israel and Turkey are not only bilateral, but for many years have also
been part of a triangle, with the US constituting the third side. The Arab
Spring has brought Turkey’s importance as a US regional ally into sharp focus,
as America’s other allies in the Middle East have been significantly weakened
and/or undergone changes rendering them less reliable.
In this context,
the deterioration of Israel-Turkey relations, which the US viewed negatively
even before the Arab Spring, is particularly problematic. The Americans are
applying significant pressure on both countries to rebuild their
Against the other difficult problems in the Middle East, the
strained relationship between Israel and Turkey is, from the point of view of
the US, a temporary mishap that must be repaired before it generates further
negative results in its wake.
Another factor is the need for
Israeli-Turkish relations in light of the changes in the Middle East, and the
instability resulting from the ‘Arab Spring,’ particularly in Syria. Military
cooperation at the level that existed in the 1990s should not be the objective;
rather, the aim should be a very basic cooperation, which will be needed, for
example, if the situation in Syria grows even more unstable.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently said, cannot allow itself not to have
relations with a key state in the region – i.e., Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia or
Turkey. The changes in Egypt and the uncertainties regarding its future, the
open confrontation with Iran, and the fact that there is virtually no contact
with Saudi Arabia mandate a certain improvement in relations with
A further consideration is the attempt to protect the soldiers
who participated in the takeover of the Marmara from lawsuits. The concern that
the Palmer Report, when published, will serve as a basis for lawsuits against
IDF soldiers, and the attempt to gain Turkey’s commitment not to instigate such
lawsuits are another component of Israel’s willingness to make a limited
Whether this is its primary motive or whether this is also a
means to prime Israeli public opinion to swallow an apology remains an open
question. In any event, the Israeli judicial system is apparently persuaded that
there will be no legal strings attached after an apology.
factor concerns trade relations. Economic ties between Israel and Turkey have
flourished despite the political tension, given that in many ways the two have
complementary economies. The Justice and Development Party also places much
emphasis on using foreign policy to promote the Turkish
Nonetheless, should the tension between the countries heighten,
more and more businesspeople on both sides are liable to fear bilateral
At the same time, it is clear that every worsening of
Israel’s relations with the Palestinians, especially in the Gaza Strip, will
erase some of the positive results that may result from an apology, whether
Erdogan visits the Strip or not. Furthermore, the announced resignations of the
army leaders and the general concerns of other officials would limit Israeli-
Turkish dialogue to the level of functionaries in the Foreign
IN CONCLUSION, the resignations of the Turkish army heads
bespeak the end of a process that has taken some years – i.e., the weakening of
the Turkish military as a political player.
From Israel’s perspective,
this is an inconvenient situation because in the past, the Turkish military was
the force that pushed for closer cooperation with Israel. Israeli policymakers
should acknowledge that this situation is probably irreversible, and that the
erosion of the army’s power has the support of the Turkish people.
is also full agreement in Turkey that Israel must apologize for the events of
the flotilla. It is still unclear whether Israeli willingness to issue a limited
apology will satisfy the Turkish public. A limited apology will not restore
relations to their 1990s heyday, but there are compelling reasons – connected
mainly to strategic changes and the possible emergence of a new strategic
balance in the region – for Israel to express a willingness to make such an
Oded Eran is the director of the Institute for National Security
Gallia Lindenstrauss is a researcher at the institute.