Two old friends: Israel and Turkey

Time was lost; despite our insistence an angry tone was adopted in the political arena. Two societies needing to be allies more than ever before unnecessarily drifted apart.

Israel and Turkey flags (photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel and Turkey flags
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A few years ago, as the Middle East began its slide into a black hole, the powerful relationship between Turkey and Israel was more vital than ever. As I have said many times, through various channels, an alliance between the two countries could to some extent have prevented the present state of affairs in Syria, represented an obstacle to the strengthening of radical groups and been instrumental in improving relations between Turkey and Egypt, and Israel and Palestine. At a time when the Arab Spring had started and some Arab countries were being dragged into turmoil, such an alliance could have slowed down wars and conflict; the Middle East might have been a very different place today.
Time was lost; despite our insistence an angry tone was adopted in the political arena. Two societies needing to be allies more than ever before unnecessarily drifted apart.
However, it is still not too late. Reports of a rapprochement between Israel and Turkey toward the end of 2015 were a welcome development following five turbulent years. The most important factors for such a mending of relations, it has been suggested, are Israel’s desire to export via Turkey the huge natural gas reserves discovered in the Tamar and Leviathan wells, and Turkey’s need for that same natural gas. Of course this is all vital for the region. Let us not forget, however, that trade between Israel and Turkey in the five years when relations were impaired actually reached record levels. The thesis that commercial interests are motivating a thaw in Israel-Turkey relations is not, therefore, a very powerful one.
When it comes to Israel-Turkey relations, one needs to look elsewhere than realpolitik. Although realpolitik obliges many politicians or materialists to think in terms of “interests,” we need to evaluate the relationship between these two countries separately from political calculations based on advantage.
The reason is this: Israel and Turkey have long been part of a Western alliance in the region, and are two democratic countries that have always sought to maintain good relations. Both countries are religious, but also secular.
These features need to be maintained in a Middle East with its Ba’athist-based administrative systems. Otherwise, the Middle East will turn into a horrifying place dominated by Ba’athist dictators.
Although Ba’athism is still influential in various places, the current situation is rather different. Many dictatorships have been overthrown, but countries have still failed to find true democracy. Russia has intervened in the Middle East, balances have changed in Iran and the turmoil in Iraq and Syria is even worse. Shi’ite-Sunni divisions are more pronounced than ever before. All other countries in the region are isolated, not just Turkey and Israel. This is a terrifying prospect for a region that was united for hundreds of years.
It is therefore more appropriate to consider Israeli-Turkish relations within this context rather than in terms of material advantage. Indeed, the impressions of Turkish and Israeli journalists visiting each other’s countries in the wake of the agreement are along these lines. The public is generally unaware of natural gas reserves, oil transfer lines and commercial partnerships. They just want their old friends in the region back.
We also need to consider this reconciliation between the two countries in terms of the disorder in the region.
For Israel, an alliance with Turkey will offer a solution to the problem of Gaza, which has been intractable for so long. It is important for Turkey to be present in the region as an intermediary and guarantor between the two sides, as it was in the past. This will be a first step toward calming the region down. At the same time, the widening Shi’ite-Sunni conflict in the Middle East seems to be dividing the region into blocs. A powerful alliance between the two countries is important in terms of the functioning of decision-making mechanisms in the face of that prospect. We hope that Egypt will also soon join this alliance.
This alliance will also act as a barrier against the anti-Semitism that has been artificially established in Islamic territory. Turkey is the sole “democratic-Islamic” model for many Muslim countries. Therefore, if Turkey takes exemplary steps that can represent a model of the proper approach toward the Jews, this will inevitably have a positive effect among other Islamic countries. The anti-Semitism caused by fanaticism and radicalism can only come to an end through sensible moves by sensible Muslims.
AT THIS point, the peoples of both countries must be on their guard. The presence of groups in Turkey that seek to gain traction by means of anti-Semitism and are therefore unequivocally opposed to the alliance we must forge with Israel is plain to see. There is also a similar section of society in Israel that does not want unity and togetherness with the Muslim Turkish people. It attaches no importance to the principle of brotherhood in the Torah and never favors the idea of friendship. Such people from Right and Left in both countries from time to time reveal themselves in words and actions and seek to prevent friendship between Israel and Turkey. We must not forget that the groups in questions harbor great anger toward all faiths and peoples. They are few in number, but their angry voices are sometimes very loud.
The peoples of Turkey and Israel have a major responsibility here. It is they who will build and support peace, alliance and friendship. Devout peoples and individuals of good conscience who constitute the bedrock of friendship must not fall for the traps of those angry voices or lend them any credence under any circumstances. The love and oneness of these two peoples, their messages of peace and brotherhood, have always been one of the most important elements keeping societies alive. The societies of Israel and Turkey must stubbornly stand up to these people of hatred and keep their brotherhood alive.
In the meantime, we also hope to win back those Jewish citizens of ours who have chosen to depart the country during these five years of tensions.
The author is an influential Turkish author and opinion leader. He has written over 300 books translated into 76 languages on politics, religion and science.