Peace with Israel as Middle Eastern maelstrom gets stronger

Peace with Israel as Middle Eastern maelstrom gets stronger

If there is a will, there is a way. If the Turkish and Israeli governments really want to mend fences, they have an abundance of diplomats with enough creativity to find a face-saving solution to the issue or issues blocking reconciliation. “The gist of the matter is: Do the two capitals have enough accumulated reason to think it is time to mend fences?” I asked Özdem Sanberk, Turkey’s former undersecretary of foreign affairs.

“The Middle Eastern maelstrom is forcing both sides to reconcile,” said Sanberk, who was Turkey’s envoy to the United Nations inquiry into the Gaza flotilla raid, an incident in which Israeli soldiers killed nine Turkish activists in May 2010. 

The Iranian-Saudi crisis has now added to the downward spiral the Middle East has been in since the Arab spring. 

Riyadh has stoked sectarian fires in the early days of the new year with its decision to carry out the executions of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. The Syrian war has already had devastating spillover effects and this new tension does not bode well at all for the region.

“This is a phenomenon that is not under your control and you can easily slide into it,” said Sanberk, adding that one of the “branches” Turkey had to grab and hang on to in order to not slide into this downward spiral was the reactivation and reinforcement of its ties with the West. 

“Turkey’s greatest asset is its capacity to use its multifaceted diplomacy,” he said.

No doubt this capacity, which has been compromised by unfortunate actions such as taking part in a Sunni alliance “against terror,” needs to be reactivated too. 

Cold peace with Israel if the two capitals decide to mend fences

“Fortunately,” the realities on the ground have forced Turkey to recall the importance of NATO. Relations with the European Union have seen a revival due to the Syrian refugee crisis. Reconciliation with Israel, which has strong ties with the West, will reinforce Turkey’s anchor to the Western alliance.

The situation is alarming for Israel as well. The Saudi-Iranian tension has brought the Middle East one step closer to implosion. If that implosion was to happen, Israel won’t be able to save itself no matter what measures it takes. So Israel has reason to see relations with Turkey improve.

But let’s make no mistake; it will be a cold peace between the two countries, even if they do decide to thaw the frozen relations.

As long as the two do not have a common perspective on the Middle East and are not on the same page as to who is a friend and who is an enemy in the region, what we can expect is damage control. 

“The two do not have to love each other. In the current situation Turkey and Israel cannot even cooperate where their interests overlap. We need to at least avoid such a situation,” said Sandberk.

While relations between the two countries’ intelligence communities might pick up quickly, it would be naïve to think the same will be valid on the political and military level. 

But it at least needs to start, sooner rather than later.