By Gokhan Bacik*

Today's Zaman, Turkey
Jan 15 2010

The tension in Turkish-Israeli relations that started with the Israeli
attacks against Gaza and reached its peak with Turkish Prime Minister
Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Davos walkout has entered its most strained
phase in the recent past with the developments of the last three days.

The two countries have dispensed with the conventions of diplomacy
that are normally carried out at a calmer and more symbolic level and
accused each other harshly in the eyes of the international community,
thereby adding new dimensions to already strained relations. The
current situation can be described as the threshold of a phase that
might create much bigger problems irrespective of the influences
of the interested parties. If the two sides choose to increase the
tension further, irrevocable consequences may arise due to the nature
of the international political process.

No doubt Turkey has a justifiable position in the criticism it voiced
against what Israel did in Gaza. On the other hand, Israel has,
from time to time, treated Turkey with behavior beyond diplomatic
courtesy. However, all these justifications are not sufficient to
produce useful results in the process. Israel is not Turkey's only
parameter in international policy and in the Middle East. For this
reason, for the sake of the fate of what it intends to do in other
areas, Turkey should not let its problems with Israel create issues in
the areas outside its bilateral relations. Naturally, Turkey should
criticize Israel's errors and react to its reactions that go beyond
diplomatic limits, but never allow the process to grow irrevocably
into a structure that will continually give birth to new crises.

There is an underlying point beneath the visible problems in
Turkish-Israeli relations: Turkey is developing a new regional vision.

In this context, it is establishing close relations with Lebanon,
Syria and other countries in the region. Naturally, Turkey's regional
vision is not against any country. However, Israel tends to perceive
Syria, Lebanon and some other countries in the region as its deadly
enemies. Therefore, while this is not essentially the case, Israel
is inclined to perceive Turkey's regional vision as a threat against
itself. In a sense, Israel believes that Turkey is building a new
Middle East at its expense. The status quo in the Middle East is
being changed by Turkey, which creates first-hand concerns for Israel.

Another point is about the radical political life in Israel where
frequent elections are held and unstable governments are established
one after another. Successive elections have radicalized Israeli
politics, making it anomalous. This structural problem prevents Israel
from making sense of the new developments in the world. The fragmented
and unstable political life has dealt a serious blow to Israel's state
reflexes. Israel is having difficulties in making sense of recent
developments, particularly Turkey's emergence as a new regional power.

However, despite their rightfulness, Turkish political elites must
diligently take into consideration some aspects of the processes
concerning Israel. First of all, Turkey's power in the Middle East
relies on its strong legitimacy in the Middle East. However, legitimacy
in international relations stems not from oneself or a single party,
but from all sides. Turkey entertains a strong legitimacy since
it is honored both by the West and the East, or both by Syria and
Israel. Turkey should not let any issue do harm to its multilateral

Second, both in Turkish domestic politics and in Middle East policy,
Turkish decision makers should not act as "the spokespeople of those
who cannot do anything on their own." Rather, Turkey should continue
to make its progress steadily based on the tangible and intangible
means available to it. Today, major regional governments -- which we do
not wish to name here -- show apparent indifference to basic issues,
particularly the Palestine issue. The positive attitude shown by some
regional governments which are quite ineffective in terms of democratic
legitimacy, effective foreign policy, etc. toward the tension between
Turkey and Israel should be viewed with skepticism. In short, Turkey
should not be part of typical Arab politics. Turkey should not lose
its capability to pursue exceptional policies with respect to Israel.

Likewise, a skeptical stance should also be directed inside Turkey.

The reactions by rightist, leftist, conservative or religious entities
who have nothing to lose from the ruling Justice and Development
Party's (AK Party) emerging as a hardcore anti-Israeli government in
the international arena should be analyzed with skepticism as well.

These marginal groups may be excused for the happy lives they lead in
their small worlds far from the realities of real politics with their
pragmatic and easy recipes. But their reactions to the incidents
that concern the masses should be filtered with certain critical
assessments. Likewise, it should be noted that the nationalists and
neonationalists, who tend to portray diplomatic issues as "national
issues" in order to push the AK Party toward a more hawkish position,
do not seek the AK Party's happiness. In this context, the past
performance of these groups which had encouraged the AK Party to fight
against the US as seen in the hood incident should be remembered. The
AK Party should ask itself the following question: What is the tactical
target of those who push us against Israel: us or Israel?

Third, the right to life of the groups which live in Turkey and which
advocate good relations with Turkey should not be ruined. Israeli
policy accommodates some groups which attach importance to close
relations with Turkey for historical, cultural and other reasons. Any
tension with Turkey will inevitably destroy the political legitimacies
of these groups. If Turkish-Israel relations are maintained in a
strained manner for an extended period, this will naturally purge these
groups and the issue will spread to longer stretches of time without
resolution. Likewise, an extremely harsh policy will paradoxically
lend a greater lifespan to the hawks of Israel. Turkey should realize
that every tension adds energy to the Israeli politicians who do not
seek peace. The AK Party's elites should remember how certain issues,
such as the Armenian issue, have been abused by Turkish security elites
for many years. The tension between Turkey and Israel may give rise
to the consequences to be benefited by the people who live in Israel
and whose raison d'être is aggression.

Strengthening the radicals in this country will not be useful for
the entire region, particularly for the Palestinians, in the long run.

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* Gökhan Bacık is an associate professor at Zirve University.