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Adventures in Causal Analysis: The Whys of Turkey's Deteriorating Relations with Israel

Adventures in Causal Analysis: The Whys of Turkey's Deteriorating Relations with Israel

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This policy brief argues that Turkish-Israeli relations are deteriorating to a level from which it may be difficult to improve them in the foreseeable future.
This policy brief argues that Turkish-Israeli relations are deteriorating to a level from which it may be difficult to improve them in the foreseeable future.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Sep 14, 2011
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Analysis
 Adventures in Causal Analysis: The Whys of  Turkey’s Deteriorating Relations with Israel
by İlter Turan
September 15, 2011
 
Offices
Analysis
W
ashington
, DC
B
erlin
 
P
aris
 
B
russels
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elgraDe
 
 
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nkara
 
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uCharest
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Summary:
Turkish-Israelirelations are deteriorating toa level from which it may be
difcult to improve them in the
foreseeable future. It is unclear
 that such a propaganda war willaccrue signicant advantages
 to either side, but it is clear that
 the two governments will ndit increasingly difcult to patch
 their differences and restore theirrelations.
The Slippery Slope Downhill
urkish-Israeli relations are deterio-rating to a level rom which it may bedicult to improve them in the ore-seeable uture. Both urkish and Israeligovernments have mobilized theirpublics and those o other societies,to the extent they are able to do so, toshow that they are right and the otherside is wrong. It is unclear that sucha propaganda war will accrue signi-cant advantages to either side, but itis clear that the two governments willnd it increasingly dicult to patchtheir dierences and restore their rela-tions to a state that would have beendescribed as excellent only slightly more than two years ago.Te string o events that led to a crit-ical turnaround in urkish-Israeli rela-tions began with the Israeli attack onGaza in December 2008, and climaxedwhen the Israeli naval commandoesattacked a humanitarian aid shipdestined or Gaza, killing nine persons— eight urks and a urkish-Amer-ican (see
On urkey
, January 27, 2011).In the attack on Gaza, the urkishgovernment elt that it had been usedby Israel, which urkey now believeshad no intention o negotiating thestatus o Golan Heights and makingeventual peace with Syria, to gaintime. It elt embarrassed because theSyrians had trusted urkey in dealingwith Israel, a country with whom theSyrians otherwise would probably nothave talked. Te urkish governmentalso concluded that Israel was notinterested in making peace with itsArab neighbors. In the attack on
 Mavi Marmara
, on the other hand, urkey asked or a ull apology and restitu-tion to the amilies o the deceased.Israel has so ar reused to meet theseconditions. It appears that while PrimeMinister Netanyahu and many minis-ters in his coalition cabinet are ready to oer an apology, Foreign MinisterAvigdor Liebermann has threatened topull back his support i this happensand bring the government down, anoutcome that the Israeli prime ministerwants to avoid.
Paved with Good Intentions
A measure that was intended todirect the urkish-Israeli conictinto a peaceul channel has in theend produced the opposite o whatit was supposed to do. Te two sidesagreed that the UN Secretary Generalappoint an international commis-sion to study the acts as presentedby the two governments and producea report. Georey Palmer, ormer
 
Analysis
2
 
Analysis
A multi-dimensional battle withIsrael in the international arena
appears to be taking shape. Why
has Turkey chosen to challengeIsrael so strongly?
prime minister o New Zealand, and Colombian PresidentAlvaro Uribe were appointed members. Each governmentappointed a representative to the commission, which wasestablished in August 2010. Te commission prepared itsdraf report as early as February 2011, but with seriousobjections rom country representatives. Te urkish repre-sentative, totally dissatised with the report, withdrew romthe meetings at the end o April. On our occasions, theIsraeli government asked or extensions beore its release,indicating that it needed more time to build consensus onoering an apology. In August 2011, the Israeli govern-ment requested another six-month extension. TroughU.S. encouragement, urkey appeared ready to agree toa month’s extension when
Te New York imes
publishedthe leaked report. Who leaked it and why was not known,but the urkish oreign minister judged that there was nolonger any reason to wait. urkey rejected the report asbeing partial to Israel with contents exceeding the commis-sion’s duties. Israel, on the other hand, through Netanyahu,announced that it had done nothing wrong and would notoer an apology.
Turkey Strikes Back
Te urkish government immediately initiated a numbero measures against Israel. Tey reduced the level o diplo-matic representation to second secretary. All military contracts have been put on hold. urkey also announcedthat it will ensure the security o maritime trac in theEastern Mediterranean, and will work to challenge thelegality o the Gaza Blockade at the International Court o Justice in Te Hague. Finally, urkey will lend support to allwho suered rom the Israeli attack to the humanitarian aidotilla. In the meantime, Prime Minister Erdoğan has esca-lated urkey’s demands rom Israel to include the termina-tion o the blockade o Gaza, promising that other measureswould ollow. Only ordinary commerce, which or now isnot subject to restrictions, seems unaected.Te urkish prime minister’s anger has not subsided. Hehas called Israel the “spoiled brat,” adding that Israel cannotcontinue to behave that way orever. Erdoğan is going to visit Egypt, unisia, and Libya in mid-September, and thereis no question that he will discuss relations with Israel withthe new leaders. He added unisia and Libya to his plannedtrip, initially intended only or Egypt, in order to enhancecooperation with the newly emerging regimes. He has alsomentioned the option o visiting to Gaza. His visit andspeeches will inevitably reduce the ability o these govern-ments to be accommodating to Israel.A multi-dimensional battle with Israel in the internationalarena appears to be taking shape. Why has urkey chosento challenge Israel so strongly? Afer all, it might have beenpossible to issue strong verbal responses to the PalmerCommission report and insist on an apology withoutresorting to measures that present a serious challengeagainst Israel. Many explanations have been oered.
The Roots of Turkey’s Anger
Te preceding discussion has already reerred to some o the reasons why urkish-Israeli relations have deterioratedsteadily and rapidly. urkey has elt betrayed by Israel in aseries o incidents. First, it was the attack on Gaza just asurkey thought that it had gotten an Israeli agreement orproximity talks with Syria. Next, it was the attack on the
 Mavi Marmara
, although Israel had been advised that theship would not orce its way to Gaza but continue on to anEgyptian port. Tird, though not proven, urkey suspectedthat Israel leaked the Palmer Commission report to thepress, judging that it was quite avorable to Israeli view-points, and thereby undermining urkey’s position on theissue. urkey’s conclusions are that the Israeli governmentcannot be trusted to stick to its commitments and that Israeldoes not have any intention o making peace with its neigh-bors. Tereore, the urkish government believes pursuingpolicies based on the assumption that Israel is interestedin a Middle East peace is a waste o time. Israel will only respond to policies that oblige it to change its policies.
 
Analysis
3
 
Analysis
It is difcult to develop apersuasive argument that the
deterioration of Turkey’s relationswith Israel is mainly a result of the
imperatives of domestic politics.
Israeli reluctance to agree to solutions stands in the way o a urkish vision to build a peaceul Middle East in whichurkey has a major economic and political role. urkishattempts to build peace by cooperative eorts with Israelhave so ar ailed to produce results. Tey are possibly nowtrying a competitive strategy to achieve the same end.Some observers oer a simpler answer. At the same timethat Israeli-urkish problems occupy the center stage o urkish politics, urkey has accepted the placement onurkish soil o NAO anti-ballistic missile system radartargeting Iran. Tere has hardly been public debate on thisdecision. Under normal times, not only would the opposi-tion but also a signicant section o the governing party constituency have debated and probably opposed thatdecision. While it is true that the current debate divertsattention rom other important questions and that thegovernment may indeed be happy to avoid a major debateabout the radar system, it is unlikely that a potentially explosive conict that aects urkey’s relations with othercountries, most notably the United States, would be osteredor relie on another question.Questions o oreign policy may also be transormed intodomestic issues or generating political support or votesas Ersin Kalaycıoğlu has explained in this series (“urkishForeign Relations and Public Opinion,” September 8, 2011).Foreign policy has clearly become the center o domesticdebate, rom which both government and opposition aretrying to extract political capital. Tis may exacerbatethe ongoing conict, limit the government’s room ormaneuver, and render it harder to take a step back. It isdicult to develop a persuasive argument, however, thatthe deterioration o urkey’s relations with Israel is mainly aresult o the imperatives o domestic politics.In analyses o urkish oreign policy, inevitably, whether ashif o axis is occurring or not is requently examined toexplain the worsening o relations with Israel. Tese exami-nations ollow two dierent lines o thinking. Some analystsargue that the new urkish government is an Islamicgovernment motivated by religious considerations, andshaping urkey’s oreign policy according to them. Whileit is true that the government party espouses an ideology that has religious colorings, whether this inuences policy in a substantial way is hard to establish. urkey continuesto cooperate with its Western allies on a regular basis. I theenthusiasm about EU membership has dwindled, this owesas much to the EU members. Furthermore, urkey is devel-oping close relations with Russia and with non-Muslimcountries in the Balkans, Asia, Arica, and Latin America.Religious considerations by themselves do not oer su-cient evidence that urkey’s oreign policy is being reshapedalong Islamic lines, translating into an anti-Israel policy.A rival explanation o an alleged axis shif ocuses on theact that urkey has become economically and politically more powerul. It is acting more autonomously in interna-tional aairs, deviating rom the policy guidelines o theCold War hegemon United States. It has emphasized betterrelations with Brazil, Russia, India, and China, as well aswith Arican, Latin American, and Asian countries. Ratherthan having an Islamic avor, it may be argued that the neworeign policy represents either a third wordlist or a Gaul-list one. In this ramework, Israeli recalcitrance is seen as a
Turkish attempts to build peaceby cooperative efforts with Israelhave so far failed to produceresults. They are possibly now trying a competitive strategy to
achieve the same end.

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