World Citizen: For Turkey and Israel, Common Interests Trump Tensions

The improbable relationship between Turkey and Israel has long stood as a unique model of pragmatic, strategic thinking in a region rife with instability, tension, and identity-based alliances. In recent months, however, growing strains between the Jewish state and its Muslim neighbor have come to light, leading some to believe their decades-old ties could reach the breaking point. And yet, if one looks more closely at the relationship, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that a break between the two countries is highly unlikely.

To be sure, relations between Israel and Turkey underwent a shift in tone after the current government took power in Ankara in 2002. From its earliest days in office, the moderate Islamic "Justice and Development Party" (AKP) expressed more support for Palestinians -- including radical groups, such as Hamas -- than many of its predecessors had, while appearing more willing to criticize Israeli actions. Nonetheless, looking at the current tensions as an unprecedented crisis in Israeli-Turkish links ignores the history of an alliance that has endured many ups and downs over the years and still managed to survive.

The recent troubles reached a dramatic climax this weekend, when a planned joint military exercise between Turkey, Israel and NATO members was canceled because Turkey refused to allow Israeli participation. The two-week-long "Anatolian Eagle" was due to start on Oct. 12 near Konya, involving Israeli, Turkish and other NATO forces. After Turkey blocked Israel's involvement, Italy and the United States pulled out and the exercise was indefinitely postponed. Initially, Turkish officials sought to downplay the rift, denying that political factors played a role. Later, however, after Israel revealed what had happened, the Turkish foreign ministry linked the government's decision to Turkish displeasure over Israel's December 2008 war against Hamas in Gaza.

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