No Turkish delight, but normalization is very much in Israel’s interest

“a positive and even critical development, given the regional challenges facing both countries.”

June 30, 2016 21:15
3 minute read.
Binali Yildirim

Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim addresses the media in Ankara, Turkey, June 27, 2016. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The deal signed June 27 to normalize relations between Israel and Turkey has come under fire from various directions. Its detractors have claimed it is a national humiliation, that Israel could have held out for a better agreement had it refused certain Turkish demands, and even that Hamas emerges as the winner.

The deal may not be a Turkish delight, but it is as INSS researcher Gallia Lindenstrauss wrote following the announcement of normalization “a positive and even critical development, given the regional challenges facing both countries.”

Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, who fronted opposition to the deal, said that “Resumption of ties with Turkey is an important national interest, but in the end, my balance sheet comes out against it.” Bennett, the education minister who has put a premium on math studies, has erred in his calculus.

Israel agreed to pay $21 million in compensation to the families of the Turkish IHH members killed as they attacked Israeli naval commandos boarding the Mavi Marmara, during the 2010 incident that led to the downgrading of ties between the countries.

In Bennett’s view the payment “harms Israel’s national honor,” which he describes as a component of national security that carries even greater weight than the national interest.

The payment for all intents and purposes puts an end to the legal saga faced by the soldiers involved, who will no longer face the threat of international arrest warrants. Furthermore, Israel paid that compensation into a fund for the families without direct contact and without admitting legal responsibility for the deaths.

Against minimal compensation for the Turks stands a wide range of interests from the possibility – albeit one that faces many obstacles – of concluding a deal to build a gas pipeline to Turkey and export gas to the country and on to Europe; security cooperation, particularly against ISIS; increased economic ties; and participation in a tacit alliance of stability that also involves Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as all four countries fear Iran’s regional aggression.

Moreover, as Lindenstrauss notes, Israel already made a tangible gain when on May 4 Turkey lifted its veto on Israeli cooperation with NATO.

The deal may give certain gains to Hamas, but to claim that it emerges as the winner is completely off the mark.

No, the deal did not get back the bodies of Oren Shaul and Hadar Goldin, two Israeli soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war; neither did it bring back the two missing Israelis believed to be held in Gaza. All Israel gets on that count is a vague Turkish assurance that it will work on a humanitarian basis for their return.

No, Hamas was not expelled from Turkey, but the Turks provided a guarantee they would prevent Hamas from engaging in military activity against Israel from its territory.

Turkey will step up its involvement in the reconstruction of Gaza by building a power station and a water desalination plant, among other projects, but Israel will not lift its naval blockade as the Turks and Hamas had demanded. Israel retains a vital security measure and, at the same time, improving the quality of life of Gaza’s impoverished residents is also in its interest.

The big question is does the deal and the subsequent increased Turkish involvement in the Gaza Strip decrease the likelihood of another round of hostilities with Hamas? “Hamas has no interest in another round of hostilities. The only scenario in which we are likely to see another round of hostilities at the moment is one where Hamas has nothing to lose because the situation in Gaza is so dire,” says INSS researcher Brig.-Gen. (res.) Shlomo Brom, a former director of the IDF’s Strategic Planning Division. The agreement with Turkey can be a contributing factor preventing that from happening.”

That surely is Israel’s gain.

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