Turkey’s Importance in Israel’s Foreign Policy

A study that Mitvim (Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies) conducted in mid-October includes quite important data about the approaches of Israeli population to Israeli foreign policy. It also gave place to the questions about Turkey, which reveals that we should closely examine this poll.

Israel’s ‘Foreign’ Policy
Israel lacks in a clear foreign policy, which is often questioned by Israeli population as well. Israel has not determined a foreign policy in general terms even if it sounds ‘weird’. Foreign policy which is a fortiori field followed by several notions is open to any kind of change and transformation. The experiences of Jewish people across the globe –and especially in Europe- constitute the main source of Israel’s orientation during and after its establishment. For instance, it does not cooperate or come face to face with great powers. The roots of this motive date back to the beginnings of the 20th century when it improved amicable relations with England, the dominant power of that time which allowed for and even supported the immigration of Jewish people to Palestine. As a result of these amicable relations, Jewish people then carried out a serious and nominal amount of lobbying activities in England and accordingly they received the approval to establish a state in Palestinian lands. Good relations with great powers paved the way for the establishment of a Jewish state and were inherited to the new Israeli state as a foreign policy attitude. It can be said in this context that Israel has never come face to face with any great power in its history. On the contrary, it has manipulated them as much as possible and made efforts to use great powers as subcontractor by this way in order to realize its national interests especially in the Middle East where it was established. Even though there is a mostly generalized view in the opposite way, it is quite questionable what kind of advantages it has provided to the states that Israel claims to be ‘alliances’ or ‘strategic partners’ in the regional developments.

In the light of the information above, it is known that Israel does not have a clear policy and shows periodic reactions to periodic developments. Notions such as having no problem with great powers, international recognition and deterrence have occupied a place as a result of historical experiences and determined the main lines of foreign policy attitude.

Motives and Interchanges of Bilateral Relations
Turkey-Israel relations became quite intense after the Cold War, especially at the end of 1990s when the two countries formed a military alliance. The timing of this process is meaningful for both Turkey and Israel. Both countries needed each other. Lobbying activities of Israel in Western countries, its military capabilities and technological capacity and Turkey’s being a door which especially opens to the Islamic world and its representation as the unique Muslim democracy in the region comes to the forefront as factors that facilitate the mentioned relations of alliance. Additionally, ‘the common threats’ in the region see this relation as a coercive function and the policies of Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian governments prompted both countries to approach each other. In short, two countries intensified their relations from necessity in the 1990s and led these relations to a military alliance which had never been discussed by then.

Operation Cast Lead that Israel launched against Gaza took place in 2008-2009 when the prime minister of that time, Olmert was the mediator in Israeli-Syrian negotiations at the very moment and was in Turkey, but gave no information to the prime minister of that time, Erdoğan. Turkey had to make a political interpretation as if it had been informed of the operation. On the other hand, Turkey strongly reacted. Erdoğan and Israeli president Peres came together in Davos in the following days and the historical monologue called ‘One Minute Crisis’ was witnessed. As of that moment, the relations became more open to bilateral showdown and deteriorated especially with Mavi Marmara Crisis.

In the atmosphere developed with and after Arab Spring, the deepening of Syrian Civil War and the territorialization of the threat urged both Israel and (especially) Turkey to meet on a common ground. However, they could not compromise about the compensation that would be paid to Turkish citizens who were killed by Israeli soldiers in Mavi Marmara incident. This caused Netanyahu to fail in his formal apology that Turkey demanded and that he made with the initiative of the US President Obama in 2013. Even though the mentioned regional atmosphere makes a new cooperation possible, there has not yet been such a development open to public. The approaches of the two communities of these two states may also play a partial role in the background of such a ‘weird’ situation. In addition, it should not be forgotten that Netanyahu government has ‘the extreme right’ profile in Israeli history. On the other hand, Justice and Development Party government also went through turbulence by gaining power, which may be the reason for the stagnant stage of the relations.

Does Israel Need Turkey?
A study conducted in October in Israel has an important place in showing Turkey’s priority in the eyes of Israeli population. Within this context, the answer to the question above is ‘no’ for Israeli population.

According to the results of the study, Israeli population (except USA) cares the relations with Russia the most with %41 and Egypt ranks number three among Muslim countries with 21%. Within this context, 25% of the total Arab population in Israel and 21% of the Jewish population considered Egypt as the third-degree vital country. Furthermore, Jordan is the seventh country with 10% and Saudi Arabia is the ninth country with 5%. Turkey ranks number twelve with 3% just above Iran in the eyes of the participants. 15% of the Israeli Arab population and only 3% of the Israeli Jews evaluated Turkey as an important country on the twelfth line. This situation is important, because it shows that Turkey still has an indispensable importance for Israel.

Following this question of prioritization, participants were asked why the relations with Turkey should be restored. The answers show that the need for security cooperation within the context of Syria and ISIS is in the first place with 44%. 10% considers the export of natural gas from Israel to Turkey as a possible reason while 16% of the participants think that Turkey’s potential to contribute to Palestinian peace negotiations is the reason for restoring the relations. Furthermore, 51% out of this 16% includes Israeli Arabs while only 11% states that it is a possible reason that Turkey may contribute to Palestinian peace process. 23% also indicates that there is no other reason for restoring the relations with Turkey. 25% of this proportion constitutes Israeli Jews.

The numerical information mentioned above is quite negative despite the motivation of the think tank that conducted this study in order to improve the relations with Turkey. Israeli Jews showed security sector as the reason for the possible restoration of the relations with Turkey. A political belief was also damaged a fortiori, that is, it became evident that Israeli Jews did not foresee that Turkey would play a role in Palestinian peace process. In addition, Egypt occupies an important place, which gives Egypt an advantage in Turkey-Egypt competition in terms of the Palestinian issue in the eyes of both Jews and Israeli Arabs. Political elite in Turkey should intensely evaluate the results of this study.

*This translated essay was first written for ORSAM (Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies) in Turkish.

About the Author
IR Researcher, studying Israeli politics and Security Studies.
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