A Turkish flag flutters atop the Turkish embassy as an Israeli flag is seen nearby, in Tel Aviv, Israel June 26, 2016.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The mending of relations between Turkey and Israel did not harm the Jewish state’s relations with Russia as the current rapprochement between Turkey and Russia demonstrates, Pini Avivi, former Israeli ambassador to Turkey between 2003-2007, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Avivi, who also served as the senior deputy general of the Foreign Ministry from 2011-2014, said it is important to note that Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Bashar Assad had friendly relations 10 years ago, before the outbreak of the civil war. Their families had even mingled, he said.
He added that Turkish relations with Russia also are key because of energy cooperation. Last month, Russia and Turkey revived plans for the TurkStream natural gas pipeline.
A senior EU official was quoted by Reuters last week as saying, “Turkey’s new friendship with Russia might become an issue if Russia tries to replace Turkey for Ukraine. It makes sense for Turkey to get cheap gas from Russia, but it will come with strings attached. That is likely to be a problem for us.”
The former Israeli diplomat in Ankara pointed out that when the war began and Assad began to attack Sunnis, relations tanked and Erdogan’s government began supporting the rebels and even Islamic State.
However, he continued, once “Islamic State began carrying out terrorist attacks in Turkey and following the crisis with Russia after the Turkish military shot down a Russian jet, Turkey began to counter the organization.”
Avivi asserts that a local commander was probably responsible for the shooting down of the Russian jet.
As for Russian support for Assad, he said that the government does not care for Assad, but is concerned with stability and maintaining an alliance with the regime.
“Russia is too big to think in terms of bilateral relations. They are thinking about global and regional relations and the need to stabilize Turkey and Syria.”
Some had thought the Turkey-Israel rapprochement would affect Israeli relations with Russia, since at the time it was at odds with Ankara, but it turned out not to matter since it “was not against Russian interests.”
“Russia doesn’t want Turkey to support Islamic State or the rebels,” he said.
Gallia Lindenstrauss, a Turkey expert and research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, told the Post
that “it does seem that Turkey and Russia are getting somewhat closer on the Syrian issue.”
A change in Turkey’s policy toward Syria is part of the general “reset” in its foreign policy, she said.
Lindenstrauss sees Turkey’s policy change toward Syria as a gradual, subtle, and relatively secret one, mostly away from the public eye.
“I don’t see this change as an aligning of Turkish, Russian, and Israeli viewpoints, but rather as an attempt by Turkey to cut its losses with regard to Syria.
“In this respect,” she continued, “the agreements between the sides are more of the type of ‘don’t disrupt’ each other than of positive substance.”