Turkey’s cold peace with Israel?

Turkey’s cold peace with Israel?

Turkey was last week talking about the effects of the outcome of Brexit. This week, the talk is of the effects of Turkish–Israeli relations. 

The British decision to leave the European Union has led to rather pessimistic comments, especially among those who believe Turkey must remain anchored to the bloc. 

Turkish–Israeli reconciliation, however, seems to have created a wave of optimism, as people see that the famous “precious loneliness” had started to become too costly.

I beg to differ on both cases.

Still, at least in the case of Israel it is much safer to be cautiously optimistic. No doubt, the fact that the two countries have agreed on terms to normalize relations is good news. But there are several short and mid-term challenges ahead. Both are related to the lack of confidence that has built up since the famous Davos incident in 2010. The first challenge in the short term will be to see how the agreement pertaining to Gaza is implemented. Friction might happen between the Turkish officials in charge of delivering aid to Gaza and Israeli officials in charge of inspecting and monitoring this aid. 

At this point let me open a parenthesis. As rightly voiced by former Ambassador Özdem Sandberk in a TV interview on the day the deal was announced, the terms of the Gaza deal are actually what Israel demanded before the Mavi Marmara incident took place. “Bring the aid to the Ashdod port,” the Israeli side had said. The Mavi Marmara activists insisted on breaking the maritime blockade, but we now know they were to planning change the direction of the boat to head toward Ashdod at the last minute. Essentially, if the Turks had not been so insistent or if the Israelis had been more patient and cool-headed, six years would not have been wasted.

If indeed the terms of the deal on Gaza are put into practice without major friction, this will show us that the two sides are rather regretful about what has happened and have learned a lesson from past mistakes.

But an awareness of the cost of bilateral tension, as well as lessons learned, is not enough to bring back the eroded confidence and put relations back on track - especially at the political level. 

The reason why relations prospered in the 1990s was the convergence of strategic interests. The two capitals saw eye to eye on many regional issues. Today, however, we have diametrically opposed ideologies in government in both capitals.

I have no doubt that relations will prosper in many areas - from academic cooperation to tourism, from economic ties to cultural events. But as long as we have a group at the government level in Israel that believes Turkey is run by an anti-Semitic gang, and as long as we have government in Turkey that believes Israel is run by Islamophobes, it will take time for cooperation at the strategic level to plant healthy roots.

Brexit, bad for Turkey?

When it comes to Brexit, the pro-EU camp in Turkey seems to have negative projections about the future.

In the short term, all this uncertainty will lead to stagnation in Turkish–EU ties. But did we have any illusions about Turkish accession accelerating following the refugee deal with the EU? No one was expecting any big leaps forward on the membership process. 

When it comes to medium to long term, I would not bet my money on the disintegration of the EU. However, Brexit could end up leading to a union of multiple circles, where members have the choice to be at the core or to be on a different layer, representing different levels of integration. That model could prove to be a more acceptable formula for Turkish membership.