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Arab unrest could help Turk-Israel ties, says former Israeli diplomat

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News | 2/24/2011 12:00:00 AM | FULYA ÖZERKAN

A destabilized Middle East is against the common interests of both Turkey and Israel, according to a former Israeli diplomat, who says the turmoil in the Middle East could trigger efforts to restore Turk-Israeli ties. 'I think that given the seriousness of the situation created by the political upheaval in the Arab world, this may accelerate the process,' says Dr Oded Eran

The latest uprising sweeping across the Middle East region from Libya to Bahrain may speed up the normalization process in Turkish-Israeli relations, a retired Israeli ambassador to the European Union said Thursday. Relations between the two have incurred a number of setbacks over the last couple of years.

“I think that given the seriousness of the situation created by the political upheaval in the Arab world, this may accelerate the process and I believe it is in the interest of both Turkey and Israel to overcome the current obstacles in their relationship,” Ambassador Oded Eran, director of the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies, told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview in Ankara.

Turkish-Israeli relations were dealt a serious blow after the Israeli commando raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish flotilla, leaving nine people dead. Turkey now insists on an apology and compensation from the Israeli government to set relations back on a sound footing.

Ambassador Eran forecast that the Turkish-Israeli relations would improve in the long run because of common concerns and common interests both countries have in stabilizing the Middle East region.

“A destabilized Middle East is a very negative phenomenon for both Israel and Turkey. For different reasons they have an interest in bringing stability,” he said. “The question in my view is whether, in the pursuit of these interests, they can come back to the mode of cooperation that existed between the two until three or four years ago.”

[HH] Can Turkey become a role model?

As massive democratic movements break out one after another in the Arab world, it remains ambiguous what will come out of this process and if Turkey, a country where Islam and democracy co-exist, can emerge as a regional leader and inspire the Middle East as a role model.

“I think there are certain lessons that some of the neighboring Arab countries can draw from the case of Turkey, but I am not so sure that Turkey will be the role model at least for the time being,” said Eran.

Turkey believes each country in the Middle East has unique characteristics and warns against making analogies on the grounds that what happens in one country is different from what happens in another.

“Definitely we don’t believe that Turkey should be some kind of model. We have maybe some positive examples that some countries could emulate certain parts of, but that’s it,” a senior Turkish diplomat told the Daily News.

“For each country it is difficult to make some kind of menu. There can’t be any kind of way where Turkey can say this is the way out. We don’t intend to preach to any country that this should be the way out. We believe that each country has its own way to go,” added the diplomat, who wished to remain anonymous.

Eran said the civil-military relations in the Arab countries and in Turkey were differing.

“For example, in Egypt the army continues to be in a central position and in Tunisia, it is the same case. That’s to say that it is not the Turkish model, where the army has been reduced in its importance in the domestic political life of Turkey,” he pointed out.

“There could be other aspects, where Turkey has a strong Islamic party in power, although the country itself is run by a democratic and non-Muslim constitution, so this could be a possible model for neighboring Arab countries which went through this revolution.” 

[HH] 'Weakening role of Turkish army affects ties with Israel'

The security aspect, the primary mover of the Turkish-Israeli relations, is gone, according to Eran, both because of the Turkish army’s weakening role in the domestic politics and also its growing cooperation with neighboring countries including Syria as part of the government’s zero-problems policy.

“One cannot disregard the changes that took place in Turkey’s domestic political life when the army lost its role as the guardian of the Constitution,” he remarked.

“Obviously when you end all affair of the [Ergenekon] trial that senior officers will be faced – with some of them were the commanders of the two important parts of the army – the navy and the air forces who conducted joint military exercises [with Israel], this will affect the security,” he said.

The former diplomat suggested that Turkey and Israel should look, if they are interested in improving their relationship, for a substitute to their military relations.

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