Why not use ‘Science Diplomacy’ to jump-start Turkish-Israeli ties?

Why not use ‘Science Diplomacy’ to jump-start Turkish-Israeli ties?

Turkey’s relationship with its long-time ally Israel is in constant depreciation despite both countries’ needs to stand next to each other amid the turmoil in the Middle East. One way of starting relations could be by pursuing “Science Diplomacy,” a non-political route as a goodwill gesture from both sides.

The importance of Israel as an ally to Turkey is undeniable. Israel is a democratic country with a consistent commitment to a free market, a strong military and advanced technological know-how. Turkey has benefited from its relations with Israel over the years when it comes to expanding its military capabilities. Israel benefited from this close collaboration as well by using Turkish soil and airspace for its training needs, and breaking its isolation in the region.

Fortunately, it is still possible to restore the relations between Turkey and Israel. The areas of science, technology, and trade may very well be possible areas of opportunity to jump-start relations. Akin to the “Football Diplomacy” between Turkey and Armenia, which had somewhat limited success, Turkey and Israel can use “Science Diplomacy” to improve their relations. “Science Diplomacy” can have a stronger impact both because the currently weakened ties between Turkey and Israel have never been broken as in the case of Turkey and Armenia and because scientific collaboration can be sustained much longer than a 90-minute football game.

Many things could be done to launch this science diplomacy: for example, beginning student exchange programs between university students (summer schools or joint Ph.D. programs); creating joint Turkish-Israeli scientific grant programs; and funding faculty members to do their sabbaticals in Turkey/Israel.

Using science to re-establish ties has many advantages. First, Turkey can still demand compensation and an apology for the Mavi Marmara. Second, because military technology is not involved, both Turkey and Israel can promote these goodwill efforts simply as means of strengthening ties between academic communities. This way, both countries can save face and show their willingness to cooperate despite serious political disagreements.

If the Turkish government is willing to pursue this route, Turkish academics who are already collaborating with their Israeli counterparts can be recruited to implement policies for strengthening scientific relationships. Academics would be a perfect choice for jump-starting Turkish-Israeli ties as, by nature, they tend to put aside politics and concentrate on their science.

At the end of the day, however, it does not matter what kind of diplomacy is used to re-establish ties. The Middle East is rife with turmoil, and natural allies such as Turkey and Israel should join forces to ensure that the Arab Spring does not translate into bloodshed and military-backed ethnic dictatorships, but more democracy in the region.

*Taner Zafer Şen is a Collaborator Assistant Professor at Iowa State University.”