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Have Israel and Turkey Reached Détente?

Syria has driven them closer; will Flotilla 2 tear them back apart?

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President Abbas and Prime Minister Erdogan last year.(Handout)

Like two people who bond over loathing of a third, Israel and Turkey, longtime allies turned increasingly rancorous rivals, have been brought back closer together during the past couple months over shared fears of instability in Syria, where President Bashar Assad continues to violently suppress domestic protesters. They’re not exactly close pals; newly re-elected Prime Minister Erdogan only last week vowed to support the unilateral Palestinian drive for statehood. But when you have right-wing deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon apologizing for his humiliation of the Turkish ambassador last year—Ayalon famously had him sit in a low chair; last week, a Turkish journalist asked to have her picture taken with Ayalon in a small chair, and he agreed—you know there is thaw. And for Israel, thawed relations with really the only other non-Arab country in the region in the midst of the Arab Spring is a good thing.

Interestingly, Turkey actually likely feels more threatened by Syrian instability than Israel. Thousands of refugees have streamed across the border, mainly into a province that is actually disputed by Syria and populated by many non-Turks with relations to Assad’s Alawite sect, so that the influx of Assad-hating Sunni Arabs makes the situation particularly volatile.

Of course, this rapprochement is taking place right at what could be the most sensitive time for Israeli-Turkish relations to date. The flotilla last year, which received the Turkish government’s tacit approval and which was led largely by Turkish citizens, was the lowpoint of Israeli-Turkish relations, or would have been until, potentially, this year’s. But instead, IHH, the Turkish charity that was Flotilla 1’s ringleader, has bowed out this year; Turkey is working with Israel to tone down a U.N. report on last year’s raid; and Prime Minister Netanyahu reportedly came extremely close to apologizing for the raid last year, which caused nine deaths, halting only due to domestic political considerations. So for all the progress made in the crucial area of Israeli-Turkish relations, what is really going to forge their direction is what happens in the next week.

Syrian Crisis Warms Turkey-Israel Ties [WSJ]
Ayalon to Turkey: I Never Intended to Humiliate Your Ambassador [Haaretz]
Turkey Concerned Syrian Border Tension Could Escalate Into Violent Clashes [Haaretz]
Will Syria’s Revolt Disrupt the Turkish Borderlands? [NYRBlog]
Israeli Official: Turkey Wants the U.N. to Tone Down Report on Gaza Flotilla Raid [Haaretz]
Earlier: The Turkey To-Do: Turkey Wins, Israel Loses

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George One says:

Unfortunately, for Turkish/Israeli relations to really warm up, we’ll have to wait until the Turkish people have enough of Erdogan and AKP and vote them out of office.

Lynne T says:

The IHH may not be official sponsors of one of the flotilla ships this time out, but I’m sure its operatives will be among the passengers, if not aboard escort ships saling along side the “humanitarian aid” carriers.

Mike says:

It seems Tracy got at least part of this wrong — no surprise there I suppose since he got it wrong in a way that makes Israel look bad. It would be more accurate to say Israel is working with Turkey to tone down the flotilla report. If you read the Haretz story on this, it’s clear the draft report has a lot in it that makes Turkey look bad and the Turks are hoping Israel will help change that language. The upshot is the blockade is legal and Israel has the right to stop those trying to run the blockade. Too bad the report isn’t out now.

Jason M says:

Turkey & Israel have common interests, but there is no warmth in that relationship. Turks are among the most anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli people on the planet (if you believe polls, that is), the military partnership and meaningless, soothing words about the “warm relationship” notwithstanding. They even hinted at threatening the Turkish Jewish community a few years ago when Israel considered recognizing the Armenian Genocide.


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Have Israel and Turkey Reached Détente?

Syria has driven them closer; will Flotilla 2 tear them back apart?

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