Nowadays, the path from Ankara to Washington seems to traverse Jerusalem.
For more than a decade, relations between the United States and Turkey and between Israel and Turkey have been on a euphemistically bumpy path.
This week marks the happiest date on the Jewish calendar – Purim. Cautiously, there are reasons to be happy about the future of relations with Ankara.
President Isaac Herzog and his wife touched down last week in Ankara for a historic visit with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The Israeli plane very visibly had the words for “peace,” “partnership” and “future” written in Hebrew, Turkish and English.
Much has been analyzed and certainly lessons can be learned from the difficulties of the last 14 years. These should not be minimized, but time is better spent focused on the future. While Israel is the most innovative and entrepreneurial nation on earth, no one has yet invented a way to go back in time.
Even before the devastating and unprovoked war in Ukraine and before developments in Vienna about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it makes strong sense for Washington and allied capitals to focus intensively on the future of relations between Ankara and Jerusalem. This should be a future grounded in an unbreakable partnership with an aim to cement lasting peace throughout both the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions.
President Herzog and his delegation started the historic visit by laying a wreath on the tomb of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the modern Republic of Turkey. Both during his military and political career, he would often pose the question, “Do you want to be a man of today or a man of tomorrow?”
President Herzog ended his visit at the historic Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul. The name derives from the vision of the Prophet Isaiah and translates to “Oasis of Peace”. The Prophet Isaiah also envisioned that where “bricks have fallen, hewn stones will be built and where [weak] fig trees have been cut, [strong] cedars will replace them.”
Both Atatürk and the Prophet Isaiah provide the context for what the month ahead could bring. Both Presidents have opened a door that elected Parliamentary, Knesset and Congressional leaders should walk through.
Over the last month, 65 Democratic and Republican Congressmen traveled to Israel. This included a delegation led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi as well as private educational visits orchestrated by AIPAC and J-Street.
Indeed, it was Congress over a decade ago that initiated BIRD (Binational Industrial Research and Development) Energy. This has been sponsored by the US Department of Energy and by the Israel Ministry of Energy along with the Israel Innovation Authority (IIA). BIRD has been a successful implementation of American and Israeli research as the globe grapples with the need for more kilowatts with less of a carbon footprint.
In 2016, the Israeli Government approved the expansion of the US – Israel energy cooperation, providing funding until 2024. Last week, Congress passed the 2,741-page omnibus spending bill complete with a renewed commitment to this collaboration.
Allied capitals have rightfully sanctioned Russian government, state owned enterprises and private stakeholders. American LNG (liquefied natural gas) supplies shipping to European allies are an important element of building a more stable future. Pipeline gas derived from Azerbaijan, traversing Georgia and Turkey before entering the Balkans is another. Israeli offshore gas reserves are perhaps the most important. Congress has and will continue to devote time and attention to European energy security. All three elements must be part of the discussion.
In his closing remarks on Turkish soil, President Herzog eloquently stated, “Certainly at a time when the international order is being shaken, it is good and proper that stability and partnership be maintained in our region.”
Lawmakers in Ankara, Jerusalem and Israel should devote considerable time in the months ahead to a comprehensive discussion about European energy security. This should include inter-parliamentary dialogue transcending party differences. It should include educational trips across the Atlantic and the much shorter trip for Knesset members and Turkish Parliamentarians.
In so doing, the regime in Moscow will be further isolated and shivering NATO capitals will not need to “make a deal with the devil” before each winter.
To use President Herzog’s words, stability and partnership will not only be maintained in the region. To use the words of the Prophet Isaiah, strong cedars will take root.