It was a shotgun wedding. The U.S. carried the shotgun. Israel and Turkey exchanged the vows. And even though both realize the necessity, they resent standing under the same chupah.
As he was departing Israel after his recent visit, President Obama placed a phone call and spoke to Prime Minister Erdogan and then handed the phone to Prime Minister Netanyahu. So, forced to stand under the same bridal canopy, the two leaders vowed to renew cooperation.
But it was an unenthusiastic vow. As soon it was announced, Erdogan declared that he won an apology from Israel, took a wait-and-see attitude and announced a visit to Gaza’s Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the Judea-Samaria territories. Netanyahu chose a low-tone approach.
Erdogan’s latest statements against Israel are still hovering over the Middle Eastern skies. Equating Zionism with fascism, Erdogan has been consistent in his thinking and utterances since his days as mayor of Istanbul. His anti-Semitism, indeed his hatred, is abundantly documented by the Center for Political Research of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Erdogan surely knew his statement on Zionism is not an off-the-cuff remark. It is an insult against the very soul of Israel. Still, he uttered it just days before Obama’s long-announced trip and his stated interest to bring the two countries closer. Why? Here is an analyst’s explanation quoted in the newsletter of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations:
”Six years after storming out of a debate with President Shimon Peres at Davos, three years after divorcing Israel to the acclaim of the Arab world, two months after excoriating Zionism as a crime against humanity, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan is not a friend, not an ally, and not a polite neighbor. At best, he is a temporary partner for temporary deals. Erdogan hates Israel, is hostile to its very existence, and longs to do something to speed up the end of that existence.”
It is not a coincidence that Erdogan’s solidly enthroned Foreign Minister is Ahmet Davutoglou, theoretician and practitioner of the Turkey Uber Alles dogma. It is a political doctrine demonstrated in the Turkish drive to lead the nations of the late Ottoman Empire in the Middle East and the Balkans.
Muslim countries in the Balkans, which shed blood to overthrow the Ottoman yoke 90 years ago, show no interest in Davutoglu’s cosmic theories. But he figures that if the masses are disinterested, perhaps he can rally the privileged few.
Recently, Davutoglu invited descendants of the last Ottoman dynasty to dinner at the Turkish embassy in London. Among the guests was the grandson of the last Caliph, Abdülmecid II,whom Kemal Ataturk deposed in March 1924.
Erdogan and Davutoglu are nostalgic for the aristocratic theocracy of the Ottoman Caliphate where Sharia was the law. The religious climate in today’s Turkey embodied in “Turkishness” has been accompanied by fundamental changes in the armed forces. In the past 10 years, Erdogan purged the army of officers following Kemal Ataturk’s tradition as guardians of a secular state.
But no Muslim state – and even less one that is not Arab – is likely to lead the Middle East unless it can humiliate militarily or diplomatically the common enemy, Israel.
That thinking is in line with Erdogan’s announcement – vehemently opposed by the U.S. – to visit Gaza in April. Knowing his interest in traumatizing Israel, one can realistically speculate that Erdogan is considering a visit to Gaza by boat or in a motorcade from Egypt.
Cooperation between Turkey and Israel is in the interest of both, in light of the chaos in Syria and Iran’s nuclear designs. It serves U.S. interests, too. Genuine cooperation could also be in the interest of Greece and Cyprus if it makes it easier for Israel to produce natural gas with Cyprus, or begin exploration and production with Greece, especially south of Crete.
But I would not advise people to hold their breath waiting, especially because Greece seems unable to declare its Exclusive Economic Zone (in Greek, AOZ.) Skirting the issue, Greece clings to the idea of a European Union AOZ which does not exist because the EU is not a country.
For Greece, the tragedy is that it may soon miss the opportunity for a declaration altogether. The window for such a move is closing quickly in the war climate that prevails, and in Israel’s reduced ability to support it militarily if necessary.
As long as Turkey is under pressure on its borders – from Syrian refugees, Assad’s army and the Kurds – the window remains partially open. When conditions change enough, it is likely it will be too late.
In connection with Greece, it is in their mutual benefit to strengthen the alliance with Israel. History teaches us that Turkey’s “friendly” attitude may last so long, and then it will drop the façade. It would be surprising if Israel is not seriously considering that scenario.
In connection with Syria, neither Turkey nor Israel can feel relatively secure as long as the civil war continues. They are faced with a double uncertainty. Who will win? If the rebels win, who leads them?
A rebel victory could open the door to Jihadists like Al-Qaeda, and build up pressure on Israel’s Golan Heights. The war might also spill into Northern Lebanon where factional fighting is already raging.
On the other hand, if Assad wins he may demonstrate his gratitude to Iran for its weapons which Iran has been routing though Iraq. He may even grant Iran a Mediterranean naval base close to the newly discovered hydrocarbon fields.
Iran’s nuclear ambitions are the major problem of the U.S. and Israel as long as the Islamists and present-day politicians run that country. Since Iraq is now closely affiliated with Iran, Turkey’s is the other border that could be useful to Western powers.
But Turkey probably will not allow use of its Iranian border either by U.S./NATO or by Israeli forces. We recall here the precedent of the second Iraq war. Additionally, cooperating with Western powers would destroy Turkey’s image as a Muslim leader.
Thus we can conclude that an Israel-Turkey cooperation may help in the present crisis. However, in macro-strategic terms, it is not likely that it will be very productive for Israel because it raises a host of other issues. On the other hand, it can prove useful to Turkey if it uses “cooperation” to apply pressure on the U.S. – as it does now when it serenades Gaza’s Hamas immediately after taking its vows with Israel.