Israel skeptical Ankara will cut ties

Foreign Ministry officials: No hard-and-fast rules on severing ties.

Turkish FM 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Turkish FM 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
With a leading Turkish newspaper quoting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Monday as threatening to sever diplomatic ties with Israel over the Gaza flotilla incident unless it apologizes for the raid or accepts an international investigative committee, many are wondering what such a move would mean in practical terms.
Sources in the Foreign Ministry, however, are not particularly worked up by the threat, both because it was not delivered through formal channels but rather through a newspaper interview, and because of the feeling that it is just that – a threat – and that it was unlikely Ankara would actually follow through.
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In fact, soon after Davutoglu’s comments were published, AP cited senior Turkish officials as backing away from the comments. A senior Turkish official told the agency that Davutoglu had only said relations with Israel would not improve unless it apologized or accepted an international probe into the incident.
According to AP, the newspaper reporters involved said they did not record the interview and the Turkish official said the government would not release a recording it had made. He did not explain why.
Ankara, shortly after the flotilla incident on May 31, recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv. Senior Israeli officials said it was unlikely Ankara would take the next step and sever ties, if only because such a move would also harm its own critical ties with the US and the EU.
“This is not something the US feels is in the interest of Middle East stability,” the official said.
“If they went ahead with this, they would feel US anger.”
And as far as the EU was concerned, the EU – according to the official – wanted to see dialogue between everyone, and severing ties is the opposite of dialogue. If Turkey ever hoped to gain entrance into the EU, the officials said, such a move would bury their chances even deeper.
As to what cutting off ties means, one official said that while there was no particular “playbook” for how to sever relations, one thing it would certainly mean would be that Turkey would close its embassy in Tel Aviv, and shut down Israel’s embassy in Ankara and consulate in Istanbul.
This move would mean an end to formal diplomatic dialogue between the two countries, and that their interests in the other country would be represented by a third country.
There would be no more formal contacts, though informal contacts would likely continue; no high-level visits; and no formal military and security cooperation.
Beyond that, however, the depth of the severance depends on the desire of the country doing the severing.
For instance, in some cases in the past, such as when the Soviet Union cut off ties with Israel in 1967, Israelis could no longer travel to the Soviet Union on Israeli passports. But this is not a hard and fast rule.
Morocco – which re-established low-level ties with Israel in the 1990s, but then severed them again after the second intifada broke out in 2000 – does allow Israelis to visit.
Morocco also allows El Al to fly over its airspace, which shows that there is no guarantee that severing ties means an end to civil aviation between countries.
Davutoglu said that Turkey had already banned all IDF flights over Turkey.
There is also no clear rule regarding what this means for economic ties.
Israel and Turkey did more than $2.5 billion in trade in 2009, a number already considerably down from the previous year. While governmentto- government deals would obviously be terminated by a cutoff of ties, private business deals need not be, according to Israeli officials, as long as the Turks do not accompany closing their embassy with legislation barring business ties with Israel. Few, however, believe this would be the direction Turkey would go.
What is for certain, however, is that the closing of the embassy would mean it would be much more difficult for businessmen to get visas and various permits necessary to do business.
Severing diplomatic ties would also mean, obviously, a major reduction in arms deals to Turkey. However, as one diplomatic source pointed out, without naming names, Israel has in the past had defense contacts and deals with countries in the absence of diplomatic ties.