Israel was correct in officially coming out in support of Turkey’s democratic process following the failed coup d’état against President Erdogan just as we would not want the IDF to overthrow Prime Minister Netanyahu over disagreements on government policy. It is incumbent upon us to support Erdogan’s return to power even if we find issue with Erdogan’s policies in relation to Islamism, Israel, illiberalism, and the Kurdish minority. Erdogan has secured popular backing and been consistently elected in elections, including as recently as November 2015.
IDF deputy chief of staff Yair Golan stated in March 2016 that Turkey-Israel relations will remain strained as long as Erdogan and his AK party are in power. Golan will have to continue keeping the champagne on ice along with many who were no doubt euphoric when it appeared on Friday night that Erdogan would soon be irrelevant and join former Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi behind bars. Notwithstanding Erdogan’s apparent determination to alienate Israel, there are many other factors at play and we ought not pessimistically dismiss him as definitively hostile.
With Erdogan’s purge of the Turkish army and anticipated witch-hunt after opponents and critics, many wonder what lays in store for Israel. With the scheduled vote on the reconciliation deal with Israel coming up this week in the Turkish parliament, Israel has announced that it expects to proceed, undeterred by this week’s dramatic developments, with the rapprochement as planned.
Israel’s relationship with Turkey has never solely been about peace or diplomatic relations. Our bilateral ties have revolved around extensive economic and military cooperation. Trade and tourism benefit the first Muslim majority country to recognize the State of Israel, which has presented Israel with a vital ally in a volatile neighborhood. The Turkey-Israel reconciliation deal announced on June 27, 2016 concludes years of tension following from the 2010 raid on the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship. The flotilla’s attempt to break Israel’s blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza resulted in nine dead Turkish citizens after IDF soldiers who boarded the ship to intercept its course were assaulted.
In the aftermath of the flotilla incident, I confronted hundreds of anti-Israel protesters in Los Angeles to convey the message that Israel had acted in self-defense. I put myself at risk to stand up for Israel and the truth in the face of the onslaught of criticism it faced, finding it imperative to do so even if no one else would. Yediot Ahronot newspaper reported on June 28, 2016 that elite naval commandos who took part in the raid declared that while their actions were justified and they had nothing to apologize for, they were willing to forgo their honor to serve the overriding national interest. They understand the criticism of the controversial deal as conveying weakness, humiliating and damaging. It is indeed problematic but we must prevail over childish grudges to construct a world with greater understanding and solidarity through reconciliation, even when it is painful. If those wounded soldiers themselves are willing to swallow such a bitter pill for posterity’s sake, can the average Israeli not follow suit? It is crucial to recall that Turkey conceded its hazardous demand that we lift the siege of Gaza, and has agreed to filter future aid to Gaza through Israel. This should ensure that as we put the flotilla incident behind us, we avoid its recurrence. Israel stood resolute on its line in the sand. It is not as if we are offering nuclear concessions and a lifesaver to an apocalyptic regime, thus enabling it to continue to oppress its people and channel billions towards terrorism worldwide…
Even with truth and right in our favor, digging into our heels would be inimical. President Obama once said, “Democracy requires compromise even when you’re one hundred percent right”; this should extend to politics and diplomacy in general. A safe world requires maturity and responsibility, not schoolyard taunts or inflated egos such as we are now seeing in the American presidential race. We must trump the Trump within us. Refusal to apologize, forgive, and reconcile will only perpetuate havoc and regression.
Despite having previously championed them, Turkish President Erdogan came around to scolding the Turkish NGO IHH both for organizing the flotilla itself and for their criticism of the reconciliation deal. Within hours of the announcement of the deal with Israel, Erdogan apologized to Russian President Putin for the downing of a Russian jet last November. It is beneficial to the entire international community to put such incidents behind it and extract Turkey from its diplomatic isolation because international relations need not be a zero-sum game but rather one of all for one and one for all.
I must issue a caveat: Israel can be expected to be blamed, at least indirectly, for the coup. Turkish Minister Suleyman Soylu wasted no time in blaming the US for the putsch. I was certain that we would receive the first honor as we serve as the Muslim and Arab world’s permanent and convenient scapegoat for domestic strife – regardless of how bizarre the charge is. (Anyone recall a Mossad-operated migrating bird spying on Turkish villagers in 2012?) General Akın Öztürk has been labeled an orchestrator of the putsch. As a former military attaché to Israel, Öztürk provides the perfect proof of Israel’s deep-seated involvement.