On Israeli-PKK relations – II

On Israeli-PKK relations – II

After the Cold War, Turkish-Israeli relations took a new shape. Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait was a source of trouble for both parties. Saddam, who was then in search of support and legitimacy against the coalition forces, targeted Israel with Scud missiles. Vigorous efforts of Turgut Özal to join the forces to be deployed in an operation to Iraq and close relations with the U.S. brought Turkey and Israel closer.

The post-Cold War era offered new opportunities and created a highly competitive environment for Turkey. On the one hand, there were spheres of influence that opened in the wake of the changing balances in Caucasus and Central Asia, the independence of Azerbaijan, and opportunities in the field of energy policy; on the other hand, there was competition with Russia, Iran and Syria which were anxious about the windows of opportunity that the new foreign policy environment provided for Turkey. All three aimed to destabilize Turkey by increasing their support for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK as of September 1992. Back then, Israel was the actor providing indirect support to Turkey on the Iranian and Syrian fronts.

As PKK action peaked in May 1993, Turkey was in need of more sophisticated weapons, equipment, intelligence and operational techniques. This helped Turkish-Israeli relations to develop. Israel shared the experience it gained against the “intifada” with Turkey and this helped Turkey inflict significant “casualties” on the PKK. In sum, the PKK threat played a key role in Turkish-Israeli relations. Today we know that Israel played an important role in capturing Öcalan, the jailed PKK leader. The PKK’s attempt to invade Israel’s Berlin consulate in the wake of Öcalan’s capture during which four PKK members were killed by Israeli guards was no coincidence.

Why and how have Turkish-Israeli relations deteriorated? The mutually reinforced suspicions between Israel and the AKP government due to ideological reasons are not the only cause. Other natural causes including the U.S. invasion of Iraq, changing balances in the Middle East, the EU process, the PKK’s loss of its former speed and network, and the decline of the security perspective in domestic politics have brought Turkish-Israeli relations to a new ground. Since the PKK question or at least the military struggle with the PKK is no longer the main topic on the agenda, the Turkish-Israeli “strategic alliance” lost its raison d’etre.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq benefited Israel. As its relations with Turkey worsened, it began to develop a new relationship with the Kurds in northern Iraq, which it had to leave in 1975. Although official circles deny this, it is known that Israel has developed military relations with the northern Iraqi government in the post-invasion era. Considering that the current PKK activities against Iran serve Israeli interests, this does not seem a far-fetched possibility.

The PKK’s ability to find sponsors and provide unlimited services is well known in Ankara. Israel is also aware of this. Nevertheless there are two principles that the leaders of both countries might want to keep in mind. First of all, states establish relationships with non-state organizations not for ideological reasons, but in line with their interests. Secondly, “He who lives in a glass house shouldn’t throw stones at his neighbors.”