Global Politician l-turkey
Nov 3 2009

The Turkey-Israel alliance is over. After two decades plus of
close cooperation, the Turkish government is no longer interested in
maintaining close cooperation with Israel nor is it--for all practical
purposes--willing to do anything much to maintain its good relations
with Israel.

The U.S.-Turkish alliance, which goes back about six decades, is
also over but much less visibly so, though the two relationships
are interlinked.

And that's one important point in the first development. If the
Turkish government was really concerned about protecting the kind of
tight links with America that have existed for so long, it would be
far more cautious about jettisoning the old policy toward Israel.

But let's take a step back and talk about the nature of the bilateral
relationship and why it has come to an end. Basically, there were
four important reasons for the close cooperation between the two
countries which made eminent sense in the 1980s and 1990s.

First, Turkey and Israel had common enemies, or at least threats. Iraq
and Syria were radical Arab nationalist regimes which had problems with
both countries. Syria claimed part of Turkey's territory--Hatay--and
was backing Armenian and Kurdish terrorists against Turkey. Iraq's
ambitions under President Saddam Hussein were also chilling for
Ankara. Iran, as an Islamist state, was hostile to Kemalism and
promoted subversion within Turkey.

If Arab states were unhappy about Turkey's growing proximity to
Israel, they weren't prepared to do anything about it, and had not
given Ankara any great benefits previously. Moreover, as devotees of
realpolitik, Turkey's leaders thought that if Arab regimes and Iran
were upset or fearful of this new alignment, it would give Turkey
more leverage. While Turkish leaders complained that Israel didn't
do more actively to help Ankara win its confrontation with Syria
over its safe haven for the PKK leadership, Damascus's willingness
to give in was surely related to the fact that it knew neighbors to
both north and south were working together against it.

Second, and related to the previous point, was the preference of
Turkey's powerful military which wanted the close relationship with
Israel. Aside from the threat assessment, the Turkish armed forces saw
Israel as a source of advanced equipment and technology that would
be quite useful for itself. Especially useful was Israel's ability
to upgrade existing equipment at a relatively low price.

Third, it was believed in Ankara that the relationship with Israel
would help its vital connections to the United States, given the
perceived strength of the pro-Israel forces there. This benefitted
Turkey in regard to Greek and Armenian criticisms of the U.S.-Turkey

Finally, there were mutual economic benefits. Commerce rose to high
levels. Tourism from Israel brought a lot of money into Turkey. And
there was the prospect of water sales, though these have never really

But perhaps more important it related to Turkey's need for a new
strategy as the Cold War ground to an end. Turkey's big asset, and the
basis of its NATO membership, was Ankara's value in confronting the
USSR and its Balkan satellite states. How could Turkey replace this
lost rationale and maintain its value to the West, whose approval
it sought and whose aid it needed? The road to Washington thus was
seen as going through Jerusalem (though Turkish policymakers might
have said "Tel Aviv.")

These three factors have all eroded, in part due to objective changes
in the world though to a very large degree due to the AKP taking
Turkey down an Islamist path. I would suggest that while previous
governments had their criticisms of Israel, if the AKP were not in
power, the bilateral link would continue rather than being terminated.

Basically, of the four reasons cited above, the armed forces' and
commercial interests have not changed at all. The same applies,
to a slightly lesser degree, of Ankara's need and desire for good
relations with Washington. Under a non-AKP government, all these
would remain pretty constant.

The one change has been the collapse of one previous threat--Iraq--and
the weakening of another, Syria, which no longer poses a Kurdish
problem either, to the point that it wanted to avoid antagonizing
Turkey. Yet even these external changes would not have been sufficient
to sabotage the relationship.

>From the AKP regime's standpoint, however, all but the commercial
factor are of limited value and, of course, it is ideologically
hostile to Israel. The government uses anti-Israel and even antisemitic
sentiment to build its base of support. It is not so sympathetic to
"Arabs" or even "Muslims" as such but to fellow Islamists. Thus, for
example, the AKP regime's passion for Hamas in the Gaza Strip is not
matched by any profound concern toward the Palestinian Authority in
the West Bank.

Let's go through the three non-commercial factors to see how they've
changed for the AKP. Rather than view Syria and Iran as threats, the
AKP government sees them as allies. Relations with both countries have
steadily tightened. Turkish-Syrian relations have become a virtual
love fest with regular visits, agreements, and cooperation.

Rather than have common enemies, then, it could be suggested that
the new alignment of Turkey with Iran and Syria have a common enemy
in Israel.

The Turkish military, of course, has faced a steady weakening of its
political influence, due both to European Union pressure and to the
AKP's strenuous efforts. Symbolic here, is the cancellation of the
planned Anatolian Eagle joint military maneuvers after six successful
such exercises. The armed forces may be very unhappy with the Turkish
government's behavior and prefer the close alignment continue but
has far less say in the matter.

Especially intriguing is the U.S. angle. The AKP regime has the
enviable situation of being able to show disrespect and a lack of
cooperation with U.S. interests without paying a price for this
behavior. The situation began in the Bush administration and the
2003 invasion of Iraq but has grown more intense with the Obama
Administration. Since the new president views Turkey as the very
model of a modern, moderate Islamist government and is reluctant to
use pressure on anyone, the White House lets Turkey get away with it.

The AKP thus no longer needs Israel as help in maintaining Ankara's
standing in Washington. On one hand, its status with the United States
is secure; on the other hand, that connection is far less important
for the Turkish regime.

Israel is not in a good position to inflict costs on Turkey for
Ankara's hostile, even insulting, behavior though Israeli policymakers
have no illusions about the end of the special relationship. There is
serious consideration of cancelling some major arms sales, especially
given new fears that the technology could find its way to Iran
and Syria. In addition, Israeli tourism fell off sharply, at least
temporarily, and Turkish Jews knew their future in Turkey is uncertain.

It should be understood that Israel does not want to respond to the
AKP's hostility by taking steps that would be seen as "anti-Turkey,"
such as vigorously backing Armenian genocide resolutions or conducting
an anti-Turkey campaign in the United States. There must be some
hope that in a post-AKP future--if any--more moderate forces in the
country would prevail and at least make the bilateral relationship
a good one even if they did not return to the past alignment.

Like all politicians, those of the AKP would like to have their kebab
and eat it, too. They still want to play a role as mediator between
Israel and Syria as well as Israel and Hamas, yet Jerusalem is not
going to play along with magnifying the importance and treating as
a fair-minded adjudicator a country which it knows is so hostile. At
the same time, Israeli leaders will avoid if possible any confrontation
with Turkey which Ankara would use as an excuse to turn the temperature
down even further.

It would be nice to be able to suggest some way in which the
relationship could be salvaged. Given, however, the AKP's ideology
and redefinition of Turkish interests, the weakness of the Obama
Administration, and Israel's lack of leverage, this is unlikely to
happen. The sole real question is how fast and obviously the AKP will
move to express publicly--and sometimes demagogically--its hostility
in the way that was done during the Gaza War of early 2009.

There is some reason to believe that the Turkish military could play
some continuing role as a restraining factor, while American criticism
(more likely from Congress than from the White House), and the desire
to maintain Israel's trade and tourism might also restrain the AKP
government. Perhaps the most powerful issue in this regard is any
lingering hope by the Turkish government that it could play a major
diplomatic role in Israel-Palestinian, Arab-Israeli issues.

Finally, there is a gap between Israel and U.S. perceptions. (The
Turkish-Israel issue plays no role with EU countries.) Israeli
decisionmakers and opinionmakers--except for a very small group
of marginal voices whose influence might well be overestimated in
Ankara--understand precisely what's happening. In contrast, U.S.

counterparts are barely aware of any problem with Turkey for their
own interests. One can expect that the conflict will force itself
into their attention in future.

The Turkish-Israel alignment played an important and productive role
in regional stability as well as for the economic well-being of both
countries for some years. It was a good situation, but clearly not
a permanent one.

Prof. Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International
Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary university. His new book
is The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan).

You can buy his latest book The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary
History of the Middle East Conflict on here.