February 11, 2013
Turkey-Israel: The Status Quo is the Better Alternative
Not long ago, a Brookings scholar predicted that:
As Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian crisis deepens, and as it prepares to deploy Patriot missiles on the Turkish-Syrian border, Turkey most certainly will aspire to improve intelligence cooperation with Israel. With regards to Syria, there is very little disagreement, if any, between Turkey and Israel, and cooperating on this issue could prove to be very useful and beneficial for both countries.
He was not alone in making such reasonable projections. But as Daniel Wagner and Giorgio Cafiero rightly noted:
Contrary to what common interests might otherwise suggest, the upheaval in Syria has not altered the Turkish government's view of Israel. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's recent assertion that Israel was operating like a "terrorist state" when it bombed targets outside Damascus last month indicates that Turkey is not seeking to incorporate Israel into its Syria strategy. Although Israel might wish otherwise, there is little reason to believe that Turkey will change its tune regarding bilateral relations in the near term, but there is prospect that relations may thaw in the longer term.
As observers of Turkish-Israeli relations may have started noticing a while ago, a disturbing pattern seems to have emerged in recent months: Israel hints it wants to amend the soured relations, and the Turks respond by making yet another outrageous statement by which they hint that 'no, the time for bettering the relations hasn't yet arrived'.
Just a few days ago Israel authorized the passage of Turkish trucks into Gaza in efforts towards the construction of the Turkish-Palestine Friendship Hospital, 'the most symbolic Turkish humanitarian assistance to date for the people of Palestine'. Nice try, but will it help? I seriously doubt it.
About half a year ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was pushing Israel 'to do what is necessary, however unpalatable, to heal the rift with Ankara'. According to the same source, Panetta was 'bringing a similar message', and we were told about how 'in the prime minister’s circle, there is growing awareness these days of how important it is to try to fix the relationship'. Israel was ready to go a long way towards reconciliation. There was still some debate as to how long – how many concessions and humiliations it should take upon itself to appease Turkey – but the signals were definitely being sent, and the Americans were ready to assist.
Alas, the Turks seemed disinterested. They showed little interest half a year ago, and even less in recent weeks. In fact, Turkish criticism of Israel became even harsher and more alarming following the reported attack of Israeli airplanes in Syria, as seen in the following Al-Monitor article-
Bottom line: Turkey seems determined to keep its relations with Israel chilled. In fact, it seems determined to also chill its relations with the US. The debate within Israel about whether to apologize to Turkey for the Navy's Marmara killings seems irrelevant in retrospect. Israel's initial reaction – not to accept any demand for apology – was not as intransient as it was made to be by many critics. At this point, American pressure on Israel to apologize doesn't seem quite as smart. That is, unless one assumes that Israel is still paying the price for taking so long to apologize.
Both in Israel and in the US such belief seems to be in decline. Israel tends to think that the Turks will find a way to evade any apology if it means they have to modify their policy towards Israel. In other words: the status quo is fine by them- If there will be change, it might be for the worse. Thus, while in the US there's some confusion about Turkish policy (why it's complicated you can learn from this recent paper by Soner Cagaptay), amending Turkish-Israeli relations is no longer at the top of Washington's agenda in Ankara.