Turkey and Israel

Turkey’s turning away from the West – including the deterioration of relations with the US and its move away from joining the European Union – would have been reversed.

Israel and Turkey flags (photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel and Turkey flags
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The failed coup attempt by a faction of Turkey’s military establishment sent shock waves throughout the region, and indeed the world. If it had succeeded, the takeover by groups claiming allegiance to Turkey’s secular Kemalist principles would have radically changed the balance of power in the Middle East.
The Muslim Brotherhood and its fellow travelers in Syria, Egypt, North Africa and Jordan would have been dealt a major blow. Hamas would have lost a major backer.
Tension between Turkey and Egypt would have subsided.
Turkey’s turning away from the West – including the deterioration of relations with the US and its move away from joining the European Union – would have been reversed.
Relations between Israel and Turkey would have returned to what they were in the 1990s, with strong military and economic cooperation between the countries.
Leaders of Western countries – Israel included – would not have shed a tear over the departure of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted political movement that has ruled Turkey for the past 14 years.
Beyond a few halfhearted statements about the importance of respecting democratically held elections, few Western statesmen would have strongly opposed the overthrow of an Islamist government.
But the coup failed.
Erdogan will now use that failed coup to further consolidate his power. He has already launched a crackdown within the military and within the judiciary system, arresting nearly 3,000 judges. It is likely that the press will continue to be targeted. (Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey 151st out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index for 2016.) Turkey will continue to support Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated movements across the region, including Hamas.
Relations between Israel and Turkey will remain strained.
In the short term, the reconciliation agreement signed between Jerusalem and Ankara will be honored by Erdogan’s government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government wisely issued a statement effectively backing Erdogan by voicing support for the democratic process in Turkey. Israel’s most senior diplomat in Ankara, Amira Oron, attended an extraordinary session of the Turkish parliament called by Erdogan’s government.
It is in Israel’s interest to ensure that the coup attempt does not lead to the unraveling of the reconciliation agreement with Turkey announced by Netanyahu on June 27, and approved two days later by the security cabinet.
In the short-term this is unlikely to happen, predicted Efraim Inbar, professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies.
The Turkish parliament will likely move ahead with passing a law that protects IDF troops from criminal and civil claims, though passage might be delayed as the Turkish nation focuses on the coup attempt.
However, in the long-term the failed coup attempt and the crackdown and consolidation of power by Erdogan’s Islamist government do not bode well for relations between Israel and Turkey, Inbar said.
When Erdogan and his AKP party first rose to power in 2002, many welcomed it as having the potential for becoming a model of moderate Islamic political leadership that could integrate itself into a robust democracy.
In fact, Erdogan marketed the AKP as a moderate conservative party that accepted the secular constitution and the democratic order. He promised to deal primarily with economic and welfare issues, to maintain Turkey’s bid for membership in the European Union, and to support a UN-sanctioned American action in Iraq.
Erdogan learned from the short rule (1996-97) of Necemettin Erbakan – an Islamist prime minister who was elegantly eased out of power by the Kemalists – that he had to be careful not to anger the Turkish military establishment.
But in the 14 years since, Erdogan has grown bolder, cracking down on the press, reforming the constitution, and changing the composition of the military leadership and the judiciary.
The failed coup attempt will further strengthen the Islamists and make another such attempt unlikely. Unchecked by the Kemalists, Erdogan will be free to pursue his Islamist agenda. And in the long-run this will have a detrimental impact on Turkey’s relations with the West – including Israel.
In the short-term, Israel’s leaders should do everything in their power to ensure that reconciliation moves forward