Abstract: Much has been discussed about Turkish-Israeli relations in the last decade. The cooling period of the relations starting from late 1990s onwards, contributed to the rise of the questions about the discussions on shifting axis of Turkish Foreign Policy in the second half of the 2000s. The deterioration of the relations especially after “Israel’s Operation Cast Lead” in 2008 threw cold water to the peace attempts of Turkey in the region. Thus, the flotilla incident in 2010 in response to political and economic embargo to Gaza, made Turkey to take a side to the Arab-Israeli conflict. In the aftermath of the UN General Secretary’s report on the Flotilla Incident, the diplomatic relations have reached its nadir. This paper will analyze the Turkish-Israeli relations in post-Cold War period especially under the AKP government from 2002 onwards, with a special emphasis on the last three years. It aims to show that the last period of deterioration in relations is neither periodical, nor characteristic. Yet, it is much more related to structural, regional and domestic factors that drive the course of the restrained relations. The second section will analyze the changing dynamics of the Turkish Foreign Policy and answers the question of whether Turkey is distancing itself from the West or not by referring to the Turkish-Israeli relations and the Palestinian issue in Turkish Foreign Policy. It argues that developing good relations with Arab countries does not mean as an alternative to the West.
Part 1: Turkish Israeli Relations in Post-Cold War Period
Turkish-Israeli relations go back to the establishment of the Israel in 1948 since Turkey is the first Muslim country who recognized Israel. The relations have been experienced ups and downs during the Cold War and shaped by Cold War parameters. Both countries were democratic and secular in the heartland of the undemocratic regimes in Middle East who are the allies of the United States. Turkey and Israel had a triangular relation in the defense, intelligence and military fields that constituted cooperation between them. Yet on the other hand, Turkey sometimes backed Arab states as in the case of 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars. Those fluctuations in the Cold War turned into a more solid cooperation and strategic partnership in 1990s.
After the dissolution of the end of Cold War, the major threat for Turkey disappeared after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Yet, the number of actors and threat perceptions increased and changed. Coming threat perceptions from Syria, Iran and Iraq, Turkey turned it face to the Middle East. The political vacuum in the region after the Soviet Union’s collapse and the rise of Iran’s power in the region had been played an important regional dynamics in the region in this environment, Turkey-Israeli relations were shaped and influenced mainly from regional dynamics along with the domestic ones.
Domestic factors have been contributed positively to the relations. The rise of Welfare Party in Turkey coincided with the ideas in favor of enhanced relations with Islamic countries. However, there had been the opposing groups that thought that relations with Islamic countries would produce a departure from the westernization and modernization line in Turkish Foreign Policy and would isolate Turkey in the international arena since Islamic countries had been a tendency to isolate Turkey (Oran, 569). Despite the effect of Welfare Party, relations with Israel were much supported by a secular pro-western military to prevent the coalition government’s desire to cut the relations with West. Turkey gave rise to the emergence of strategic partnership between Israel and Turkey after signing various military agreements. Therefore, military bureaucratic elite who has the power to influence politics in Turkey was in favor of Israeli friendly policies that would profoundly affected the relations (Oğuzlu, The Changing Dynamics of …, 276).
Along with the domestic factors, regional environment were very conducive for Turkey to have strategic ties and cooperation with Israel. Above all, Turkish Foreign Policy in the aftermath of Cold War, made Turkey to be plumped with many security challenges that shaped foreign policy perspective of Turkey via security concerns (Analist, 21-22). First of all, in 1990s, Turkey had faced security challenges coming from its neighbors. For example Syria’s and Iran’s support of PKK and the Saddam regime’s aggressive policies (Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Iran Iraq war) led Turkey to seek a regional ally in Middle East other than the relevance of NATO. Throughout the 1990s, Syria had been a base for PKK training camps that would give rise to the PKK terrorism in Turkey (Oguzlu, The Changing Dynamics of…, 278). On the other hand, unpleasant relations with Iran contributed to the enhancement of Turkish Israeli cooperation. Both Turkey and Israel perceived Iran, Syria and Iraq as a threat for regional stability in Middle East. From an Israeli point of view, Turkey was an important country that will diminish Israel’s isolation.
Secondly, those common interests also complemented with the need of military technologies of Turkey for its struggle with PKK. West was reluctant to sell weapons to Turkey because of its low level human rights record and the controversial fight with Kurdish rebellions (Inbar, 2-3). Israel, as an important country in Middle East that can be beneficial for Turkey in terms of military technologies that are necessary to fight with terrorism. Thus, Turkey needed the support of Jewish Lobby against the Armenian and Greek lobbies on US Congress, to repair its relations with Europe (Oran, 568). The relations eventually reached at an ambassadorial level in 1992. Increasing defense, trade and cooperation in the fields of intelligence and terrorism led to the strategic partnership in 1996 since there had been a multi faceted cooperation between Turkey and Israel. Starting from the 1994-1995, Turkey and Israel had been cooperated on many issues to establish a permenant and fair peace in the region preventing the repetition of Iraqi threat to the Middle Eastern stability and security (Oran, 569-570). Towards the end of the 1990s, Israel and Turkey had been decided to cooperate on defense, tourism, agriculture, security, terror and on trade sectors. Through free trade (1997) and economic cooperation agreement (1998) both countries increased their economic and trade relations (Oran, 570).
Further enhancement of the relations disrupted the balanced strategy of Turkey that has been adopted during the Cold War period between Middle Eastern countries and Israel (Kaya, 3). Turkey withdrew from its balanced strategy policy in Middle East in 1990s with the strategic partnership with Israel. The increased cooperation between two countries was perceived negatively in the Arab world and in Iran (Egypt, Syria, and Iran). Yet, Turkey’s attempts to prevent further deterioration of the relations with its neighbors, led the adoption of a more balanced strategy again towards the end of the 1990s with the development of relations especially with Iran and Syria (Kaya, 3-4).
Thirdly, attempts of establishing a peace in Palestinian-Israeli conflict affected Turkish pro-Israeli attitude. Starting from 1991 with “Madrid Peace Conference” that initiated direct talks between Arabs and Israelis, there was a hope for the conflict resolution. Israeli’s occupation of Palestinian territories and the conflict over the holy place (the statue of Kudüs) between Israel and Palestine had been contributing the regional instability in Middle East. Yet, throughout the 1990s starting with the Madrid conference and then continued with the Oslo process which was backed both by US and international community over the illegal Israeli occupation of some parts of Palestine, there were hope for conflict resolution. There was a positive environment since both countries were willing to end the conflict, however the peace attempts were halted/ended in the Camp David talks in 2000 (filistin.ihh.org.tr). The last factor which shaped the relations in 1990s was USA’s New World Order which had been tried to be established after the Cold War. Accordingly, regional allies (Turkey and Israel) were needed for USA. From the Israeli and Turkish point of view, there was a desire to keep their strategic importance before USA. In that sense, Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Çiller was denominated the Turkish Israeli relations as “strategic partener” in a visit to Israel in 1994 (SDE Analiz, 10).
The capture of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in 1999, created a new opportunity for Turkey in 2000s to reestablish/repair its relations with its neighbors and return to the balanced policy in the region. The capture of PKK leader paved the way for an improvement in Turkish Syrian relations. Two countries have established a free trade zone in 2007 and lifted the visas in 2009 (Aras, Turkey’s Rise in the…, 35-37). Indeed, the Iraq war in 2003, led Turkey, Syria and Iran to improve and strengthen their relations since they have a same perspective concerning the aftermath of Iraq. Turkey and Iran have intensified their relations in security field since Iran has facing the same security problems concerning the Kurdish populated areas like Turkey. Despite the isolationist policies of US and Israel towards Iran, Turkey continued its ties with it. Trade volume between Iran and Turkey became higher than the one between Israel and Turkey. Hence, Turkey backed Iran’s nuclear program by opposing further sanctions of United Nations Security Council in 2010 (www.birgun.net). It is very obvious that Israel has been receiving Turkey’s support of Iran in an unpleasant manner.
In order to understand the recent crisis between Turkey and Israel that would end up the suspension of military agreements and also led to the decline of the diplomatic relations in September 2011, first of all, one should look at the regional threat perceptions which have been changed in 2000s started with the capture of Öcalan. Especially after the Iraq war in 2003, Israel’s increased contacts with Iraq brought about the differences over the common threat perceptions between Turkey and Israel. For Turkey, territorial integrity of Iraq was important however Israel wanted to be influential in Northern Iraq by enhancing contacts with Barzani family. Israel was giving support to Sunni Kurds in Northern Iraq in order to decrease Iran’s influence on Iraqi Shiites (Kaya, 9). After the Iraq war, Israel had gained many contacts including the construction of Erbil International Airport and accelerated the institutionalization of Northern Iraq. Israel’s policies were completely against the policies of Turkey considering Iraq. A Kurdish state in Northern Iraq is always a threat for Turkey considering the possibility of separatist movements among Kurdish population in Turkey. On the other part, Turkey’s relations with Iran were completely perceived negatively in Israel since it saw Iran as a major threat to itself in the region (Kaya, 9-10).
The eruption of Iraq War (2003) substantially affected the Turkish relations with Iran and Syria that had been the two important enemies of Turkey in 1990s and once led Turkey to cooperate with Israel. In the aftermath of the war, common interests among Turkey, Iran and Syria made easining of the relations. Iraq war also led Turkey to shape its foreign policy that will affect the 2000s that will be discussed later on (SDE Analiz, 12-13).
One can see a gradual worsening of the relations in 2000s starting from the collapse of Camp David Talks and and later followed by Second Intifada/Al- Aqsa Intifada (Palestinian resistance movement against Israeli attacks). Those developments made Turkey to be susceptible in favor of Arab World and Turkey started to see its relations with Israel as a “burden rather than an asset” (Aytürk, 676).
Actually, after 2001, Israel’s policies had also been changed towards Turkey with Likut Party’s governance under the leadership of Ariel Sharon. One of the most important indicators of Israel’s attitude was the closure of Kerkük-Ceyhan oil pipeline and calling out Musul-Haifa oil pipeline with the adive of US (SDE Analiz, 13). Besides, Israel also tried to gain territories from Northern Iraq by legitimizing it with the deeds of the former Iraqi Jews. Turkey had warned Israel for several times yet the Israeli government further proceeded wih the support of Kurdish State in Northern Iraq (SDE Analiz, 13). Relations even further deteriorated with the condemnation of Israel by acting like a “terror state” by Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan hereupon the killing of two Hamas leaders (Seyh Ahmet Yasin and Abdulaziz Rantisi) by Israeli attacks. The tension even rose with the refusal of Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and Deputy Minister Olmert’s visit/appointment to Erdoğan. However, in the aftermath of those events, Turkey adopted a more relaxed and positive attitude towards Israel. Increased PKK attacks, deteriorated relations in the aftermath of 2003 Iraq war with USA (rejection of 1 March decision by the Parliament), Annan Plan in Cyprus and the desire to get support from International community for Armenian genocide resolution led Turkey to had a moderate attitude. This change in Turkish attitude followed by a visit of Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Gül to Israel in 2004 (SDE Analiz, 13-14).
The positive atmosphere continued with the Turkish mediation efforts between Israel and Syria starting from the 2004, however Turkey could not continue to produce objective policies and the first breaking point occurred when Israel attacked lebenan in 2006. Although Israel declared its withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and Lebanon in 2000, its uncompromising attitude towards the resolution of the conflict and aggressive attitudes regarding disproportional use of force towards the civilians made further deterioration in relations (SDE Analiz, 14).
Uncompromising attitude of Israel in the region is related with its domestic politics. The rise of right especially after 2005 brought about even further aggression on Israeli policies. Israel government could not succeed to change Israel’s security and defense oriented foreign policy despite the fact that there have been significant regional changes after the Cold War. Its realist foreign policy comes from its governmental structure. One of the most important obstacles for Israel to pursue consistent policies is the presence of coalition governments composed of different ideologies. Today, Israeli coalition government consists of 6 parties whereas there are 12 parties in Knesset (Israeli assembly) (Dinçer, 4-5). Radical expressions of different parties regarding their withdrawal from the government generate a big problem in front of Israel’s relations with other countries. Israeli government views the importance of having permanent peace with regional countries for their own security yet at the same time they legitimize their use of unproportional force for their own security (Diriöz, 5). This is another dilemma that Israel faces for a long time.
From 2000 onwards, Turkish-Israeli relations have been much influenced by the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. Israel’s unproportional use of force during the second Intifada period and assassination of Palestinian leaders raised the tension. Turkey criticized the Israeli attacks of Palestinian territories that have been under the occupation by Israel. Lebanese-Israel war in 2006 also contributed to Turkey’s reaction to Israel (Kaya, 8). Therefore, positive atmosphere between Turkey and Israel after Prime Minister Sharon’s decision to withdraw from Gaza disappeared quickly. In 2006, after Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections, Turkey hosted a high ranking Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal since Turkey wanted Hamas to be part of the peace initiatives between Israel and Palestine. Hamas leader’s visit to Turkey bought about Israel’s reaction since they perceive Hamas as a terrorist organization. Thus, Turkey informed Israel and USA very late about this visit. However, Turkey later on declared that they tried to induce Hamas to lay down its arms. Until 2005, Turkey and Israel has good relations, there have been many high level visits from Turkey to Israel and cooperation continued even in the strategic field. Yet the disruption has been intensified with Hamas leader’s visit, Israel’s attack on Lebanon and finally with the “Operation Cast Lead” in 2008-2009, cold water thrown to the relations (Kaya, 8-10). Turkey’s attempts in the Israeli-Syrian peace process collapsed with Israel’s attacks on Gaza Strip by Operation Cast Lead. Turkey’s reaction was very sharp and Turkey lost its confidence to Israel concerning the desire to seek a peace. In the aftermath of the operation the relations further deteriorated and reached its nadir in 2011.
Operation Cast Lead followed by several events that led the relations reached its nadir in 2011. Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan’s statements to Israeli President Shimon Peres were stinging. Erdoğan criticized the unporportional use of force by Israel targeting civilians and blamed Israel about how to kill well when it comes to killing in World Economic Forum at Davos (Oğuzlu, The Changing Dynamics of…, 4). Eventually the decision of Turkey to nationalize ordinary joint naval exercise “Anatolian Eagle” was very obvious that aims to prevent the participation of Israel to the military exercise (Aytürk, 678).
Two TV series even had been contributed to the worsening process in the relations at societal level led by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Two TV series (Ayrılık and Kurtlar Vadisi) aggravated the Israel animosity in societal level (it contributed at the rise of anti-Israeli sentiments in Turkey). Ayrılık broadcasted by a state- funded TV channel TRT 2 characterized Israeli Defense Forces as satanic. Despite the protests coming from Israel, another private TV channel started to broadcast another series that involves anti-Semitic sentiments. Those TV series were reflected in a diplomatic scandal known as “low couch crisis”. Ayalon (Israel Deputy Foreign Minister) refused to shake Turkish ambassador Çelikkol’s hand and later on placed him in a low couch in front of the cameras. Although Israel tried to repair the damage, it already caused destruction in relations.
Considering the Turkish-Israeli relations, one can see a gradual deterioration of the relations starting from 2000 onwards, yet it should not be forgotten that Turkey and Israel had been continued their cooperation on several levels. Although there was a conflict and ups and downs in political and diplomatic level, relations continued in several levels. For instance, bilateral trade continued to grow along with the economic relations. In 2003-2004, one can see an active involvement of Turkish mediation efforts between Palestine-Israel, thus, also major effort on Israel-Arab conflict. One can also see a mediation effort of Turkey between Syria and Israel when indirect talks started in 2008. High level visits and contacts continued in military that led two countries to cooperate on intelligence to combat terrorism (hot line established between Israel and Turkey). Despite the fact that Israel did not participate in Anatolian Eagle joint military exercise in 2004, cooperation still existed in military issues (Turan, 118-124).
Mavi Marmara Incident which is known also as Flotilla incident in May 2010 has added a new dimension to the relations. After this incident, it was very obvious that one can no longer talk about amicable relations as in 1990s. In response to Gaza blockade of Israel after the Operation Cast Lead, an Islamic NGO (Humanitarian Relief Foundation) owned the ship to break the naval blockade of Israel to Gaza with several activists in order to send humanitarian aid to Hamas ruled Gaza strip (Aytürk, 679). The result was dreadful since 9 Turkish activists were killed whereas several of them injured during an attack by Israel while in international waters. This incident bought about two important consequences. First of all, from the time the incident occurred, Turkey could no longer resist in front of being a party to Arab-Israeli conflict since nine Turkish activists were killed. Turkish public opinion has always sympathized the Arabs in Arab-Israeli conflict yet Turkish Foreign Policy was very careful in order to pursue a middle approach towards the issue. After Mavi Marmara incident, it was impossible to ignore Turkish public opinion and also impossible for not being a party to Arab-Israeli conflict. Therefore, Turkey had become a party to the conflict and also considered Turkish public opinion in Turkish-Israeli relations.
Through Turkish initiatives, United Nations Security Council decided to establish an international commission to investigate Mavi Marmara Incident. In September 2011, Palmer Report (UN Commission Report) was leaked to the press in September 2011. Palmer report degraded the relations to a second clerk level because of the highlights about the legitimacy of Gaza blockade and Turkey set five conditions/sanctions to Israel to normalize the relations. Those conditions were:
- Israel should apologize from Turkey because of the Mavi Marmara Incident
- Compensations to the families of Turkish activists who were killed during the attack of Israel should be paid
- Turkey does not recognize the Israeli blockade of Gaza
- All military agreements will be suspended
- Diplomatic relations will be lowered to the second clerk level.
Turkish Foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu emphasized that those sanctions will be valid until Israel accepts to apology from Turkey and to pay the compensations to the families as well as to remove the blockade on Gaza (Sandıklı). Besides the regional factors that have been affected to the relations, Turkish-Israeli relations were mostly shaped by Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the collapse of hopes on peace in Arab-Israeli conflict. In order to understand why Israeli-Palestinian conflict influenced the course of the relations in 2000s, one should understand the new Turkish Foreign Policy and Israel’s turn to rigorist foreign policy in 2000s. In the grand scheme of things, Turkish and Israeli approach to regional issues were extremely and completely different from each other (Kaya, 7).
Part 2: New Vision of Turkish Foreign Policy
Turkish Foreign Policy proactivism and emergence as a regional power that contributes to the peace in the region in 2000s, has been affected the course of the relations. Despite the new Turkish Foreign Policy, relations continued at multiple levels, yet a major deterioration started with the Mavi Marmara Incident in 2010. Therefore, analyzing new Turkish Forieng Policy detailly would be very useful to understand Turkish perspective to the issues.
Generally, Turkish Foreign Policy had been a tendency to pursue a non- involvement and to pursue passive policies towards Middle East. Yet, in the aftermath of the Cold War, Turkey turned its face to the Middle East. This attitude of Turkey has been discussed whether Turkey is distancing from West or not. However, Turkish attitude was a reflection of changing regional parameters after the Cold War (Uslu, 1-3). Turkey has been faced many challenges coming from Middle East that resulted in turning to Middle East to deal with the problems. At the beginning of the post-Cold War period, Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the creation of safe heaven above 36th parallel introduced a new challenge for Turkey because it triggered the possibility of a Kurdish state near its border. Turkey has also strained relations with Arab countries and Iran in 1990s (especially with Syria and Iran) since they gave a support to the terrorist organization PKK that provoke Kurdish separatism in Turkey (Larrabee, 1-2). Having strained relations with Middle Eastern countries and lack of soft power, prevented Turkey’s engagement in Middle Eastern countries except Israel. However, Turkey has pursued a new foreign policy throughout the last decade. Turkey stresses the importance of promoting security and prosperity in a new world order created after the collapse of Cold War. Therefore, Turkey should actively engage in Middle Eastern countries to provide peace and stability for everybody’s benefit (SDE Analiz, 12). Yet, Turkey did not abandon continuities in its foreign policy attitudes which have been the relations with West. Thus, Turkey never ran counter to NATO and EU.
Actually there are five principles that have been shaped Turkish Foreign Policy in the last decade. First, Turkey aims to provide security by not undermining the civil rights and liberties that is targeting balance between security and democracy that made Turkey to gain self confidence and paved way to pursue a more active policies in Middle East. For example, Turkey had been started a process known as “democratic opening”. Through those transformations, Turkey aims to consolidate its democracy by emphasizing its unitary structure where all citizens can enjoy from full rights and liberties before law in an indiscriminating manner according to Justice and Development Party (27-33). Democratic opening aims to find a solution to terror by not undermining democracy in the country.
The second principle is zero problems toward neighbors. It aims to maximize cooperation and minimize problems with neighbors through a role of facilitator/mediator in regional conflicts (Aktaş, 73). Turkey has considerably improved its relations with its neighbors especially with Syria and Iran who were the major incentive for Turkey to cooperate with Israel in 1990s. Indeed, Turkey had a considerable achievement in zero problems foreign policy throughout the last decade. This principle made Turkey to form amicable and strong relations with its neighbors which ended its security threats coming from its region. Therefore, strategic partnership concept gradually experienced deterioration in the second half of the 2000s.
The third principle is proactive and pre-emptive peace diplomacy that gives Turkey a peacemaker role in the region who is taking precautions in order to prevent crises and conflict (Davutoğlu, 5). Turkey achieved it through creating interdependences between countries by economic cooperation. Turkey has repaired its relations with its regional countries and gained the trust of them and had mediation efforts to solve the conflicts between Israel and Syria over the Golan Heights problem, to contribute political stability and peace in Iraq. Turkey by creating a platform called “Iraqi Neighbors” tried to find a peaceful solution for the future of Iraq in the aftermath of the 2003 war (Aras, Turkey’s Rise in the…, 38-39). Turkey’s peace promoter attitude in the region also has been welcomed by the international community since Turkey was elected as a non permanganate member in UN Security Council in 2009 (Kirişçi, 32). Actrually, this principle did not yield any negative results considering Turkish-Israeli relations since Turkey actively engaged in mediation efforts. Yet, with the uncompromising attitudes of Israel, especially after the Mavi marmara Incident which casued the killing of 9 Turks, changed the picture.
Kirişçi emphasized the factors that caused Turkey’s transformation as a rising regional actor who is active in the region as a mediator. First of all, Turkey redefined its national security which enabled Turkey to adopt a more constructive approach toward the neighbors. Secondly, with the domestic transformations that has been conducted since 2002 contributed to the democracy in Turkey that provides Turkey to take confident steps in the region while having accelerated relations in the EU membership process. Hence, there has been also a change in state actors since there had been a change in elites from a secular to more conservative elite. Thirdly, Kirişçi highlights the importance of Turkey’s geography that would be turned into a strategic dept which have cultural, historical and societal link with Middle East that give Turkey a maneuvering effect in the region. Lastly, he gave importance to the rising soft power of Turkey as a result of those changes.
Kirişçi contributed to the factors that have been mentioned above with economic incentives. He tried to show that the economic incentives play an important role for Turkey. Experiencing the liberal economic reforms since 1980s, Turkey started to develop relations on the basis of search for a trading partner. In a more globalized and integrated world, economic interests has been integrated to foreign policy making process. From this point of view, one can understand Turkey’s relations with Middle East as a pragmatic concern rather than an ideological one (Islamist ideology). He also mentions that new actors emerged in foreign policy making. The interests of civil society organizations, entrepreneurs, businessman and the effect of oublic opinion became much more important than it was before. According to Kirişçi, being a trading state requires promoting an active foreign policy, to minimize the problems with neighbors, to give importance to soft power. Thus, economic interdependences also serve peace building efforts (Kirişçi, 37-43).
Considering the importance of economic incentives in conducting relations with other countries, one may understand thee rise of relations of Turkey with Middle Eastern countries. Ziya Öniş, emphasized the significane of Turkey’s shifting trade partners. Turkey’s trade with Middle East, Asia and Africa has been rising since 2002 yet trade with EU has a declining pattern (Öniş, 13).
The other two principles are multi-dimensional foreign policy and rhythmic diplomacy. While multi dimensional foreign policy gave Turkey to strength relations with other countries not as an alternative to the others but as a complementary to them, through rhythmic diplomacy, Turkey pursues more active role in international organizations such as UNSC, G-20, Arab League, etc.
New vision of Turkey has played a significant role in Turkish-Israeli relations. First of all, decrease of military bureaucracy’s influence in relations has a negative impact on the relations. Secondly, Turkey’s democratic reforms and redefining its security pushed Turkey to have strong and amicable ties with Arab World and Iran. Unlike in 1990s, Turkey can take important steps in the region without giving much importance to external threats especially coming from Northern Iraqi Kurdish Regional Administration. Davutoğlu’s zero problems foreign policy that has been discussed above as 5 principles led Turkey to form interdependences with Arab countries in 2000s. Those interdependences require peaceful relations. Therefore, Turkey’s seek to promote peace in the region became quite important in its relations. Therefore, Turkish-Israeli relations started to be deteriorated starting from 2008 with Operation Cast Lead. Turkey condemned Israel for killing civilians and not informing Turkey before the operation. Although Turkey’s mediation effort since 2005 between Israel and Syria was started in 2008 with the acceptance of indirect talks, Israel turned to aggressive policies and showed that it did not see Turkey as a third party peace promoter. The loss of trust emerged between Turkey and Israel.
New Turkish foreign policy enhances Turkey’s rise as a soft power in its region. Turkey’s emergence as a civil economic power in the region not only contributed its democracy, but also contributed to the soft power and increased its sphere of influence in the region that led the decrease of Turkish dependence to form an alliance with Israel. Actually Turkey’s soft power is related with the return of Turkey to a more balance policy/strategy in the region. Generally, Turkey pursued a balanced strategy in Cold War years considering the Middle East. For example, Turkey declared its neutrality in 1967 Arab Israeli conflict, yet Turkey gave food allowance to Syria, Egypt and Jordan. Thus, Turkey did not allow using NATO bases against those countries. Moreover, Turkey recognized Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1975 and opened an office in Ankara in 1979. However, Turkey set equal diplomatic standing of the office with the Israeli representation (both charge d’affaires). In other words, Turkey pursued a balanced strategy in Middle East between Israel and other states.
In post-Cold War era, in 1990s, relations raised to ambassadorial level with both Palestine and Israel with the effect of Madrid Conference and Oslo Peace Process’ positive atmosphere in the region. The positive atmosphere reflected in Israeli-Turkish relations and followed a strategic partnership with several fields such as defense, intelligence and trade. Eventually the expectations were collapsed concerning peace between Palestine and Israel with the leadership of Ehud Barak (1999-2001). In 2001, with the leadership of Ariel Sharon, Israel turned to aggressive foreign policy. Turkey stressed its reaction to Israeli policy of pressuring first and second intifada. Hamas leader Seyh Ahmed Yasin’s killing brought about Turkey’s severe condemnation of Israel by describing it as a “Terror Act” (Kaya, 12). Israel was again asserted its aggressive attitude through an operation towards Hamas in Gaza. Later on, with blockade of Gaza and Operation Cast Lead as well as Mavi Marmara it asserted its aggressive policies that have been contributing to the instability in the region.
In the last decade, Turkey developed relations with Arab countries and Iran, and pursued an active diplomacy in Arab-Israeli conflict. Turkey reshaped its foreign policy from security oriented perspective to a more interest oriented foreign policy. For example, Turkey backed Iranian Nuclear Program in 2010 by not voting for additional sanctions imposed on Iran in UNSC. From 2002 onwards, Iran became the major trade partner of Turkey in Middle East with Namdar Zangane natural gas pipeline. Turkey did not want to be against Iran since there were strong economic and energy relations (Kaya, 4-6). Indeed, Turkey is against the nuclear weapons and called for a denuclearization in Middle East in 2004. However, Turkey is against the revisionist policies of US and West who were in favor of putting sanctions. Yet, Turkey tries to reconcile West and Iran by emphasizing the right of Iran to have nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
Changing dynamics in Turkish Foreign Policy since 2002, affected the Turkish-Israeli relations. Turkey’s emergence as an economic and civil power that seeks peace in the region resulted in Turkey’s activism in regional issues. One of the most important issues in the region is Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Turkey not only reacts very sharply to the Palestinian question since 2002, but also has been reacting since 1960s. For example in 1982, Kenan Evren critized Israeli intransigent policy toward Palestine (concerning the status of Jerusalem) resulted in the demotion of diplomatic relations to the second clerk status as today (Aykan, 101). Bülent Ecevit also criticized Israeli operation during second intifada and defined it as “genocide”. Turkey has been adopted a trend of criticizing Israel for its aggressive policies in the region that are preventing the regional stability therefore the recent deterioration in relations is not unique to AKP government.
Turkish sensitivity towards Palestine raises the question in minds about the importance of Palestinian issue in Turkish Foreign Policy. According to Aykan, Palestinian issue has been always there in Turkish Foreign Policy since 1960s. However, it has been gained a much more importance for the recent years. Bulent Aras explained this new concern of Turkey by emphasizing the impact of Turkish public opinion after Davos and Mavi Marmara Incident. Now, the Palestinian issue turned to be an issue of Turkish Republic since Turkey gave losses. It is very normal for Turkey to side with Arabs and oppose to Israel (Aras, Turkey and the Palestinian…, 5-8). Unlike in 2008, now Turkey had become a party to the conflict and withdrew its neutral role and took a side. Another important point to be highlighted is the government’s concern in domestic politics. Turkey’s pro-Palestinian discourse and expressions have been positively supported in Turkish public and have been a major source of electoral support for AKP (Öniş, 14).
In recent years, there have been debates whether Turkish Foreign Policy is shifting its axis or not. Those debates emerged as a result of the several events especially intensified in the aftermath of the Davos crisis. Following the Turkish severe tone in the World Economic Forum in Davos towards Israel and its goodwill over Palestine created positive reactions in the Arab world and in Turkey. Davos crisis is one of the most important turning points over rising doubts about Turkish Foreign Policy who takes sides in the regional issues that will curb its mediator role. Mavi Marmara Incident in May 2010 raised the level of the negative tone that will end up in the lowest diplomatic relations since 1982 (with the Palmer Report). Turkey’s strong support of Iranian Nuclear Program in UNSC in 2010 also contributed to the questions in the minds about the Turkey’s attitude against the interests of West and emergence of Turkey as a defacto independent regional power in Middle East. Those debates and events occurred simultaneously at the time when there has been a stagnant period of relations with EU (Öniş, 3-4). Yet one should keep in mind that that stagnance should not be understood as a distancing from the West.
Although there have been some debates over foreing policy of Turkey, there should not be any doubt about Turkey’s western commitments. Turkey showed its commitment to the West by acting in unison with NATO’s missile shield project and on 2 September 2011 and declared its approval of deployment of missile shield in Malatya in the same day where diplomatic relations decreased at lowest point with Israel. Fatih Altaylı’s “Füze Kalkanını Niye Onlayladık” discusses that the missile shield was deployed in Turkey in the aim of defense against any Iranian threat for NATO countries, yet it is very obvious that it has the possibility to protect Israel in case of Iran’s attack. Deploying NATO missile shield in Malatya actually supports that Turkey is turned to a more balanced strategy in Middle East trying to keep balanced policies both between Israel and regional powers (Middle Eastern powers) and also between East and West (reconciliation efforts for Iran). The recent negative tone and attitude towards Israel is very normal and temporary in the course of Turkish Foreign Policy. Turkey has been a tendency/trend to react the aggressive foreign policy of Israel as it always did in the past (Kaya, 10-12).
Turkish Foreign Policy has been pursuing a pro-active foreign policy and emerged as a regional power in Middle East. The recent events in Turkish Israeli relations and the significance of Gaza drama, led the rise of discussions about the direction of Turkish foreing policy. Yet, Turkey’s commitments to the West has not deteriorated and the ideals of foreing policy principles are compatible with EU and US since Turkey is getting powerful economically, politically and socially with its the democratic and secular structure in the region. Yet, in the recent transformation and events in the Middle East which is known as Arab Spring led Turkey to become the supporter of Arab societies instead of the regimes. It also showed the Turkish desire to have a more democratic and transparaent regimes in the region that can establish peaceful relations and strong coopertions in Middle East. When concerning Israel in an environment of changes and transformations, it should also make some effort to normalise the relations with the countries. Lastly, with the recent events in Middle East, the whole world saw the emergence of civil society’s power as a new actor like states who can change regimes and influene the masses in the other countries.
Turkish Israeli relations in the last period have been deteriorated a lot yet it is neither a new and unexpected phenomenan nor a permenant development. Turkey has been the trend to critcize Israel for its aggressive policies in the region yet at the same time always keeps relations with Israel.
The ideals of Turkish Foreign Policy are very different from the Israeli aggressive policies towards Palestine that also affect Israeli relations in the Arab world. Israel should also revise its domestic political structure in favor of stability, democracy and harmony yet at the same time there should be a change in its foreign policy. The recent developments might seem to continue but one should consider the balance strategy of Turkey in the region that aims to develop relations with Arabs and Iran while also keeping in touch with Israel whereas continuing its Western commitments.
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