Morning-after pill for Erdoğan and Netanyahu

Morning-after pill for Erdoğan and Netanyahu

An apology is what you make of it. A political apology can particularly be so complex yet so simple. Since the Mavi Marmara incident, there has been too much chatter about the “requested apology.” The Israeli apology came, and another round of intense debate started around questions such as why did Israel apologize? Was it a mistake? What did Turkey give in return for the apology? Let’s clarify a few simple facts: The apology was one of the three Turkish conditions to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel. The Israeli apology came because the unmet condition has become a major roadblock in several coordination efforts between the two U.S. allies. Turkish determination signaled that they will continue to bear the costs of gridlock. Given that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a new government without the naysayer Avigdor Lieberman, the cost of apologizing was now much lower than prolonging the friction with the Turks. Any argument to belittle the value of the apology fails to see it was a requirement.

Since March 22, Turkey and Israel have been working on their mutual relations with a little help from the United States. Therefore, it may be better to question what normalization entails for both countries. I argue that effective cooperation between Turks and Israelis, or a partnership of some sort, is not possible in the short-to-medium term. However, effective communication and coordination on several fronts is highly likely and needed. I would like to highlight three main priorities for coordination and a crucial condition for smoothing out the normalization process.

The two interrelated areas are intelligence sharing and defense, while the other is the transfer of new-found natural gas, or the energy trade. For matters of national security and intelligence sharing, the two countries will coordinate in such a manner that they won’t step on each other’s toes in contentious areas, such as Syria. Many pundits try to measure who has more intelligence on Syria and who can benefit from whom. Intelligence is not like cash – more is not necessarily better. However, it is crucial for the two U.S. allies not to break all diplomatic links when the Syrian civil war is expected to inflict more trouble along both of their borders. They need to communicate, coordinate and interact at a bare minimum to avoid offsetting each other’s efforts inside Syria and maybe even in Iran, Lebanon and Iraq.

The next issue is related to trade. Newly found Israeli natural gas resources need a route to international markets. Turkey appears as the best option available to Israel at this point. It is a mutually beneficial project which entails significant potential. Hence, with matters of intelligence sharing, military exercises, the arms trade and energy transportation, Israel and Turkey will coordinate and communicate intensely. The apology has removed the obstacle to ostracize those who were linking the two countries. Now on these fronts there will definitely be more activity and visibility.

“Other areas of collaboration” and further cooperation may follow, but only on the condition that all high-level interactions in the public domain are kept to a minimum. The costs of losing an audience are too high for Erdoğan and his men (they are mostly men, sorry to be so sexist) to be posing for instagram moments with Israeli officials. Behind closed doors, high-level communications can carry on; however, as Israel has one of the most right-wing governments in the Knesset and Erdoğan is aiming for the 2014 presidency (a new system with a new Constitution to be created), any high-level interaction in the eye of the public is doomed to generate further friction between the two. If we can judge from the recent past, Israel-bashing has generated signature moments of fame for Erdoğan in Turkey and the Muslim world, hence it is safe to assume that if opportunities arise, they will be duly savored. Also, I am not quite sure if Erdoğan can afford or prefer to “praise” or “get along” with Israel in the public eye based on his core electoral base, his personal beliefs and various non-state actors, such as Hamas in the Middle East.

Therefore, my humble advice to “friends of Israel and Turkey” is to keep the leaders apart and away from the public eye, and resolve your matters with technocrats, businessman, academics and civil servants. As long as the relationship is kept low-key, it may prove surprisingly lucrative for both parties.