Analysis: From a '0-problem' to '10-problem' policy

Israel must play a new, sharp and calculated game of diplomacy and let Turkey act first.

By EFRAT AVIV
September 6, 2011 15:16
3 minute read.
Israeli and Turkish flags [illustrative]

Israeli and Turkish flags 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)

A famous Turkish saying draws a parallel between a relationship and a string ¬ when a string is cut, it says, it is always possible to tie it again, but there is no way to avoid the knot.

If that is the path Turkey chooses to take when it comes to Israel, Israel is in big trouble. But Turkey won't gain much from the conflict, either.

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The Mavi Marmara affair was dubbed "The 9/11 of Israeli-Turkish relations," a term used to portray the shock coming from Ankara after the incident. Despite all precautions, the Turks never dreamed the flotilla would turn out the way it did.

The death of nine Turkish citizens from IDF-fire was taken as if it were a declaration of war. Ankara was furious and made the Marmara incident a dead end for relations with Israel, unless the latter bowed and apologized. In addition, the Turks complained about extensive information leaks in Israel (e.g. the reports that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had initially intended to apologize).

Israel should have more carefully observed the importance the Turks attributed to the incident and its effect on bilateral ties. It should have also kept in mind two main things: 1. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and the AKP government are only part of the problem. Turkish society must be taken into consideration as well.

The responses following the Marmara raid were similar in all segments of Turkish society, creating a growing wave of criticism against Israel.

True, the AKP's 2011 election campaign was "Hedef 2023" ("Aim: 2023"; Erdogan believes his government will still be ruling when the Turkish Republic celebrates its 100th anniversary), but no one can guarantee that.

How can Israel regain the Turks' friendship the day after Erdogan? 2. In the unusual diplomacy of the Middle East, why does Jerusalem ignore the art of pragmatism ¬ especially when it can look to the great Turkish example? Why haven't we learned from Erdogan how to negotiate and twist reality to satisfy our own needs and interests? Some believe that especially in this region, apologizing means humiliation, submission and a blow to "national pride." But the Turks' famous pragmatism, anchored in their days as an empire, has done them only good. Why would Israel be interested in making it easier on Erdogan, who had already called to lower the level of diplomatic relations in the past? Why should Israel give up on the staggering $2.6 billion the two nations exchange in trade every year? Why fall into the Turkish prime minister's trap instead of learning from his tactics? Israel must play a new, sharp, calculated game of diplomacy and let Turkey act first.

While Israel might emerge as the greater loser here, Turkey will not carry the day, either. There has been domestic criticism accompanied by heated rhetoric ¬ coming especially from the opposition party CHP ¬ regarding the AKP's decision, claiming that Erdogan's "zero-problem policy" is not proving itself on one hand, and that the price, on the other hand, is just too high.

Turkey's need for special military equipment to combat the PKK terrorist organization ¬ equipment produced and made in Israel ¬ is a concern for Ankara, as is losing trade and other options. Its current problems with Syria, and the heated declarations against Turkey from Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, do not make the "zero-problem policy" more relevant to this region.

Since the AKP took control in Turkey, it has been trying to persuade the world, especially the West, that it is possible to be at once a democratic and a Muslim country, that Turkey has no plans to become "a second Iran" and that it can mediate between East and West. After downgrading the ties and threatening Israel with "extra measures," Turkey will have to work harder on proving its "balanced policy" to us all.

The writer is a lecturer in Bar-Ilan University's Department of Middle Eastern Studies and a research associate at the university's Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies.


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