Is Turkey reconciliation gaining support in Israel? - analysis

If Turkey really is a potential partner with Israel against Iran, how come Turkey adores Iran’s leadership and never opposes Iran?

 Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference in Istanbul, Turkey October 16, 2021 (photo credit: REUTERS/MURAD SEZER)
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference in Istanbul, Turkey October 16, 2021
(photo credit: REUTERS/MURAD SEZER)

Israel-Turkey relations have been reduced to their worst point in history over the last decade because of the actions of Turkey’s leader and the ruling party.

With its roots in the Muslim Brotherhood and support for Hamas, the AK Party, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is a reactionary far-right religious party that has sought to transform Turkey into an authoritarian one-party state, while backing extremist groups in places like Syria.

It has sought to take on an “Islamic” leadership role, not only backing Islamist groups but also championing “Islamic” causes. As part of this, the Palestinians loom large, and support for Hamas is part of that cause.

However, despite Ankara’s obsessive anti-Israel policies, such as comparing Israel to Nazi-era Germany and hosting top-level Hamas terrorists who plotted attacks on Israel from Turkey, there has been a constant lobby to restore Turkey-Israel relations.

This lobby is primarily made up of some pro-Israel voices, think tanks and a spectrum that stretches from the Left to Right. It is usually rooted in memories of the 1990s when Israeli parties on the Left and Right both held power and had positive relations with Turkey.

 Natali and Mordi Oaknin on their way home to Israel after being released from jail in Turkey (credit: FOREIGN MINISTRY) Natali and Mordi Oaknin on their way home to Israel after being released from jail in Turkey (credit: FOREIGN MINISTRY)

Supporters of reconciliation between Israel and Turkey don’t acknowledge that Turkey primarily burned down the relationship due entirely to the ideology of the current regime in Ankara. Instead, the supporters posit that Israel and Turkey enjoy some strategic and economic interests and that they are somehow destined to work together.

This “geopolitical” destiny harkens back to the Cold War era, and supporters of Turkey are almost all people with worldviews rooted in the Cold War of the 1990s. For them, Turkey is not a country made up of the ideological roots of the parties that run it and is not a changing society with different views among its people; it is a “strategic” entity.

It transcends politics and the current leader, and because of its position between Europe and the Middle East, it is destined to clash with Iran and be a conduit for Israeli economic needs.

In this worldview, whether Turkey is run by ideological allies of the Taliban or communists is immaterial.

That Turkey hosts actual Hamas terrorists who plot to murder Israelis is not a problem. That Turkey threatened to break off relations with the UAE to try to stop it from making peace with Israel is not a problem.

That Turkey sent hundreds of men armed with melee weapons on the Mavi Marmara to try to infiltrate the Gaza Strip by sea is not a problem. That Turkey’s leader has often compared Israel to the Nazis is not an issue.

For the reconciliation narrative, all this is just rhetoric. What matters is strategy.

The latest “reconciliation” talk began, as it usually does, in Ankara. Turkey has floated reconciliation in the past, usually as a way to try to sabotage Israel’s relations with Greece and isolate Jerusalem.

Reconciliation is a tool for Ankara to gain things it wants. For instance, it sought to send an envoy to Israel who was openly anti-Zionist. That was “reconciliation.”

Ankara also wants to prevent an Israel-Greece pipeline and energy deals. It wants its economy to improve and also wants better relations with the US. Turkey’s leadership has plunged the country into economic disaster with rising inflation. Ankara thinks Israel can be an economic lifeline.

In every “reconciliation” story, there is nothing that Israel gets from better ties with Ankara.

In the recent bout of “reconciliation” talk from Ankara, Erdogan announced that President Isaac Herzog would visit Turkey. He didn’t coordinate this announcement with Israel and purposely sought to force its hand in this matter. It turns out that Herzog is about to visit the UAE, so Turkey sought to upstage that visit.

This is not the announcement of a friend – to go against protocol and try to force Israel’s president into a visit. The goal of Ankara was clear: Force Israel to either confirm or deny the visit.

Turkey often abuses Israel to get the things it wants. Last year, Turkey detained an Israeli tourist couple for no reason. This was said to be part of how Turkey wants “reconciliation” – that if Israel doesn’t do what Turkey wants, then more Israelis might be detained or disappear. Reconciliation is always achieved through threats by Ankara.

Those who back reconciliation tend to argue that there are economic benefits for Israel. There is little evidence of this. Israel’s economy has performed well in recent decades, and it already has traded with Turkey.

It is Turkey’s economy that is in a free fall, and it’s unclear why Israel would want exposure to these economic shambles. Closer economic ties with the Gulf states and stable Asian countries would appear more productive.

Another argument is that Turkey somehow agrees with Israel on Iran issues and Syria. This theory asserts that Turkey is a natural rival of Iran. This is because people think Turkey is a “Sunni” country and thus destined to fight the “Shia” in Iran; also because some argue that the Ottomans are historic rivals of the “Persians.” Thus, these countries must always fight each other.

Surely, some misreading of European history would have one posit that Catholic and Protestant countries will always war, and that France and Britain are bitter rivals. But history tells us that simplistic stories about how countries have to be “geopolitical” rivals are largely a myth based on bad academic studies in the West.

The same logic guides the US to work closely with China “against” Russia for decades, only to find out that China and Russia both oppose the US “geopolitically” in the world.

There is no evidence of Turkey and Iran clashing. It’s just the opposite: While Turkey’s regime was destroying relations with Israel over the last decade, it was growing closer to Iran. While Israeli ambassadors were sent packing in Ankara and there were no high-level visits, Turkey’s leadership often hosted its Iranian friends.

Meanwhile, at think tanks in the US and Israel, experts continued to argue that Turkey would work with Israel against Iran. If Ankara wanted to work against Iran in Syria or the region, it would have done this over the last decade.

Instead, Turkey devotes its resources to using drones to attack Kurds and Yazidis in Iraq and Syria, it encouraged war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and it threatens Greece. Turkey basically fights everyone, except Iran.

At each juncture the question should be raised, If Turkey really is a potential partner with Israel against Iran, how come it adores Iran’s leadership, never opposes Iran and compares Israel to the Nazis?

The idea is that Israel should “reconcile” with Turkey, which is the country that ruined the relationship, with the hope that maybe Turkey will want to do something regarding Iran. This is based on the fantasy that Turkey’s leadership doesn’t make its own decisions, but can be somehow influenced by Israel.

The leadership in Ankara has made its decisions clear. It has ample opportunity to remove Hamas, confront Iran or put out positive messages about Israel. Announcing Israeli presidential visits without coordination isn’t a sign of respect for Israel; it’s just another way to try to muddle Israel-UAE relations.

At every step, Turkey has no interest in doing anything that Israel wants. Yet the “reconciliation” narrative continues.