Israel and Turkey after Gaza

One of the yet-to-be-determined aspects of the fallout from the Gaza War is the longterm damage to Israeli-Turkish relations. So far, there has been a lot of heated rhetoric, immediately followed by reminders that the two nations have solid and durable ties. As Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan put it at the height of the conflict, “I would like to remind those who call for Turkey to freeze ties withIsrael that we administer the Republic of Turkey, not a grocery market.”

But now Israel seems to be signalling to Ankara what seems like a put-up-or-shut-up moment, with defense sources telling the Jerusalem Post that Turkish arms requests might be rejected, and a diplomatic source having this to say:

A senior diplomatic official told the Postover the weekend that Erdogan, and Turkey under his leadership, had”lost all credibility as an honest broker” in regional negotiations.

Now, the same article goes on to cite another, less pessimistic diplomatic source:

However, “despite all the talk, no joint economicinitiatives between the two states have been canceled,” a seniorIsraeli diplomatic official told the Post Sunday. Inparticular, plans for a joint Israeli-Turkish infrastructure and energycorridor between the ports of Ceyhan and Haifa are still under way.

And needless to say, Turkey will continue to play a key role in the region. In fact, it’s very possible that the tensions raised by Gaza will pass without longterm damage to its ability to mediate an Israeli-Syrian peace track and participate in an Israeli-Palestinian process.

But what’s perhaps most alarming about the Post story is the suggestion that the source of Israel’sdiscomfort is the Turkish army’s loss of influence over the civiliangovernment.

Turkey’s unique role and a lot of its leverage derives from its credibility in the West as an ally, in the Arab world as a strong, Islamist democracy, and regionally from its ability to reconcile the two. With Turkish-EU and Turkish-U.S. relations having suffered in recent years, and tensions on the domestic front between Turkey’s civilian government and military command on the rise, both of those foundations are now under pressure.

A dependable Turkish ally achieved through military interference with the civilian government might satisfy Israeli and Western security concerns. But it only exacerbates the broader regional problem of Western dependence on non-democratic regimes. It seems to me Israel should be trying to avoid irritating that raw nerve, rather than the reverse.