Turkish delight

There is no contradiction between Turkish-Israeli ties and the Turkish desire to establish itself as a regional power.

Mavi Marmara 311 (photo credit: Stringer Turkey / Reuters)
Mavi Marmara 311
(photo credit: Stringer Turkey / Reuters)
I read with fascination that if some Turkish prosecutor has his way, my boss – Amos Yadlin, the immediate past head of Israeli military intelligence – could be put away for a minimum of 133 years, if not hundreds more, for his alleged part in the Mavi Marmara affair.
Two years ago next week, May 31, 2010, in an operation that went horribly wrong from the start, Israeli naval commandos tried to take over the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship of a much broader flotilla of supposed peace activists attempting to demonstratively break the Israeli blockade on Gaza.
Instead of peace activists, however, the commandos ran into violent opposition, mainly from a group of organized Turkish thugs who had pre-boarded the ship secretly in southern Turkey to avoid detection, and with the express intent of preventing any Israeli attempt to take over the vessel.
The result: nine people killed, eight of them Turks and one with dual American- Turkish citizenship, when the vastly outnumbered and overpowered Israelis had to fight for their lives.
The Turks demanded that Jerusalem apologize. Israel expressed regret at the loss of life, but refused to apologize for an incident not of its making, and things have gone downhill ever since.
After we had thought we had seen the worst, on Wednesday the Turkish media presented us with the news of the prosecutor’s 144-page indictment against four top Israeli officers at the time, sentencing them each not only to individual life sentences, but another 18,000 years collectively for alleged crimes against the flotilla.
May we only live that long.
The whole thing is a joke of course, and still has to go through an arduous judicial process before becoming a reality. Somewhat unfortunately, however, the news came out on exactly the same day my wife pointed to a colorful fullpage advertisement in one of the Hebrew papers offering Turkey as a tourist destination for Israelis again. The price was low, the resorts great, it was close. Why not? What sank in me when news of the 18,000-years-plus-four-life sentences came out was a fleeting moment of hope the ad had stirred in me that somehow Israel and Turkey could get back to the type of relationship these two countries should be engaged in, rather than this petulance-driven dynamic in play at the moment.
Israel has made mistakes with Turkey, and Turkey has made mistakes with Israel, but the region has changed and times have changed – now it is time to move on.
Israel and Turkey have more common interests than quarrels. They share a strong interest in regional stability, containment of Iran, fighting terror and a strong orientation to the West and NATO. The two have benefited from military ties in the past, and Israel could not have bombed the Syrian nuclear reactor [in September 2007] without Turkish cooperation in one way or another.
Israeli fuel tanks were found in Turkey at the time of the attack, leaving little doubt what route they had taken in getting there.
Not many months ago, the Turks could play off the Syrians and Iranians against the West and Israel with great comfort. Syria has gone up in flames, Assad has become a liability, the Iranians are on the defensive and in retreat and Turkey’s strategic choices have become more limited. There is only one camp for the Turks to be in, the West, the same alliance Israel is in, and for all the same reasons.
Turkey is entitled to take on whatever internal nature it wants, as long as this is done within the norms of democratic behavior. The recent purges of the military, always seen as the pillar of Turkish secularism, are internal Turkish business, as long as the rule of law is respected.
Israel too is trying to define itself as a Jewish democratic state. Who knows where we’ll be in a few decades from now.
Turkey had reason to be angry with Israel over the Gaza Operation. Then-prime minister Ehud Olmert made a visit to the country on the eve of Israeli tanks trundling across the border, making it look as if the Turks had given their blessing to the destruction that ensued.
But Israel has kept its tongue on issues like the on-going Turkish bombing of the Kurds, and the still disgracefully unsettled issue of recognizing the Armenian genocide.
If we are looking for arguments, there are many to be found, but it would be hard to see how Israel and Turkey do not fit into the same overall strategic context, especially in this region at this time.
Olmert is gone; Assad is, for all intents and purposes, is gone; Gaza is living its life, if you can call it that, and there are much bigger issues at stake than yet another attempt to drive a nail into a relationship that should be better.
There is no contradiction between Turkish-Israeli ties and the Turkish desire to establish itself as a regional power. Israel would have no reason to object. On the contrary.
Tourism and normalcy are intimately bound. A story on four Israeli officers receiving life sentences plus a mere 18,000 years does not add credence to the advertisement on the back page for Turkey as a holiday destination for Israelis. The sentence will (hopefully) end there, with the idiotic prosecutor who wrote it.
As for Turkey as a tourist destination again, wouldn’t that be a delight?
The writer is a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. His latest book, The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, won the National Jewish Book Award in the History category for 2011.