Events

The New Turkish Foreign Policy: Is There a Place for Israel?

November 16, 2009 // 3:00pm4:00pm
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Barkey started by outlining the modern history of Turkish-Israeli affairs. He indicated that since Israel's inception in 1948, Turkish-Israeli ties have been generally amicable, though often conditional on agreement over delicate regional issues. Early setbacks in this alliance include the 1967 Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the 1980 coup led by Turkey's military generals, and the 1996 election of Turkey's first Islamist president, Necmettin Erbakan. The subsequent improvement of relations was grounded on common military, political, and economic interests. More specifically, amity has been largely centered on military exchange – where Israel has been the primary military supplier to Turkey; open economic ties – formalized by the free-trade agreement in 2000; and an acute concern over regional stability – brought on by the 1993 Oslo Accords. This was not an alliance in the classical sense where each country promised to come to each other's aid although many in the Arab world assumed it was.

Barkey indicated that there was no change in Turkish-Israeli relations following the 2002 election of the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government. Unlike the more inward foreign policies of the preceding government, the AKP pushed a policy based on multilateralism which aimed to expand international relations and bring Turkey to the "central stage." AKP valued existing ties with Israel because it provided Turkey with influence in the region as well as continued access to Washington. Turkey's active diplomacy in the Middle East took many forms as it decided to engage Hamas and later initiate secret talks between Israel and Syria. Here it benefitted from the vacuum created by the Bush administration.

In recent years, however, relations have suffered under the AKP. The AKP administration has become more outspoken on the Arab-Israeli conflict and Lebanese crisis, adding to Israel's uneasiness with Turkey. The main "turning point," according to Barkey, was Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's continuous public denunciation of the 2009 Gaza offensive. The escalation in Erdogan's rhetoric reached a crescendo when he labeled the Gaza events to be worse than Darfur. Erdogan's anger at Israel is primarily motivated by the fact that then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert started the Gaza operation four days after concluding a trip to Turkey and thereby, in Erdogan's mind, scuttling the chance of any breakthrough in Syrian-Israeli negotiations brokered by Ankara. It will take some time for the relations to heal. However, even Syrian President Assad was sufficiently worried enough by the turn in events to caution Erdogan in a recent summit not to distance Israel too much for fear of losing Turkey as a valued intermediary.

Drafted by Nader Mehran on behalf of the Middle East Program.

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