Turkish-Israeli ties remain gloomy

Turkish-Israeli ties remain gloomy

Gideon Levy, a prominent columnist for daily Haaretz – and, I am told, and object of hatred for conservative and ultra conservative Israelis – argued recently that unless Israel apologizes to Turkey for the killing of nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists, “the curse of the Mavi Marmara,” will continue to haunt the country.

Meanwhile, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz was quoted telling a conference at the Washington Institute recently that his country had to come to terms with Turkey’s rising superpower status in the region, and adding that Israel “should have a strategic relationship with Turkey, like we had in the past.”

Such remarks indicate that the “Turkey debate” continues to “haunt” that country’s policy planners and analysts. But there is also the “never bow to Turkey” chorus in Israel that continues to feed right wing populism. 

The fact is, however, that Israel’s security needs today are much greater than they were prior to the Arab Spring, and they are getting worse with the growing political uncertainty in Egypt and the slide toward civil war in Syria. 

Then there is of course the perennial issue of Iran. It is apparent to everyone except the hotheads in Israel that the threat of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons is not going to go away with an Israeli “feel good” strike against that country, unless Israelis are prepared for all out war to prevent this. 

All of these issues concern Israel much more immediately than they do Ankara, even if Turkey is not immune to a negative fallout from any of them, especially from Syria. It is understandable, therefore, that the cool heads in Israel should be encouraging an improvement in ties with Ankara for the sake of the country’s strategic interests. 

But the bottom line as far as Turkey is concerned remains the same. Asked if the positive statements about Turkey coming out of Israel could lead to better ties, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was adamant yesterday. 

In his curt reply to CNNTurk’s question, Davutoğlu said improved ties “were out of the question” until the time when Ankara’s clear cut demands were met. In other words, Turkey still wants an apology and compensation for the Turkish activists killed, and also for the siege of Gaza to be lifted, even if this is really a secondary demand at this stage.

However, the prevailing mood in Israel, despite remarks such as those coming from Mofaz, appears to be just as adamant in not meeting these demands. With the mood among most Israeli politicians, and a public that has shifted noticeably in the direction of the right wing - radical and otherwise - in recent years, it is clear that Mofaz and those who think like him are a minority whistling in the wind. 

Meanwhile, on the Turkish side, while developments in the Middle East are leading Ankara’s current foreign policy concerns, the question of Israel hardly features in any public debate. Whether the debate in Israel, as opposed to the lack of it in Turkey, highlights which country considers these ties to be more important is open to yet another debate.

Then there is the fact that many Israelis also feel that their new found allies, such as the Greek Cypriot administration, represent a sufficient substitute for the loss of Turkey. Time will tell of course, but this belief contrasts somewhat with Mofaz’s notion that Turkey is becoming a regional superpower.

In the meantime, Israel’s State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss recently issue a report that harshly criticized Prime Minister Netanyahu’s handling of the Mavi Marmara crisis, and this has merely added to the Erdoğan government’s determination to stick to its guns. 

The bottom line is that the prospects for improved Turkish-Israeli ties in the near future remain gloomy, and all the rest appear mere wishful thinking on the part of some Israelis and Turks who also want to see these ties back to where they were before being haunted by the Mavi Marmara.