“It is possible that Turkey and Israel might tumble into an armed conflict in the Mediterranean.” It is remarkable to hear these words from a diplomat who spent most of his career building good relations between the two countries. But Alon Liel has not ruled out this possibility.
Turkey and Israel, long time allies in the Middle East, have been at odds since the Gaza War in 2009. Turkey’s Prime Minister openly criticised Israel’s bombardment of civilians in Gaza during the operation and bawled out Israeli President Shimon Peres during a conference at Davos.
However this crisis was contained by adept diplomats, while Peres was quick to save relations from a free fall. But the flotilla crisis in May last year ended, with the killing of eight Turks and one Turkish-American citizen during the Israeli raid, was hard to swallow for Turkey.
Turkey wanted an apology, but the Israeli right wing government resisted and after 15 months of waiting Turkey decided to downgrade relations to Second Secretary.
“This is a strategic decision which will have economic, political and social implications. It needs a lot of time to recover.” Alon Liel told Euronews.
The most striking of Turkey’s decision was protecting free navigation rights in the Mediterranean, which was regarded as using force by many analysts. And according to Liel this may cause an armed conflict between the two countries:
“I think Turkey and Israel can fight not because of Gaza or Lebanon, but over Cyprus. Arguments over the rights of gas and oil reserves, its shipping, demarcation of territorial waters may cause conflict. Both navies know each other, this may help to overcome crisis but it is possible for the two countries to enter into an armed conflict.”
Prof. Efrahim Inbar talks about other implications to bilatarel relations. “We helped Turkey in overcoming genocide resolution at the American Congress for many years. I myself worked for this. But people in the Washington lobby are mad at Turkey now.”
In Israel some people talk about “using the Kurdish card”, in other words supporting the PKK armed Kurdish separatist group over Turkey. But both analysts ruled out such a policy and say that “no serious Israeli talk about it. It is an idea brought by bloggers.”
But is there a way out for the two countries without resorting to conflict?
Liel thinks that there are two aspects to answer this question. On the bilateral level, governments must be more careful while on a regional level the Israeli-Palestinian peace process should be revived because Turkish-Israeli relations are closely linked to the Israeli-Arab question.
“If Israel had apologized for the killings it would be over,” says Liel. But Inbar is more pessimistic. He says “As long as the AK Party supports “terrorist” Hamas, things can’t get better. Turkey is now a friend of Hamas and Iran not Israel.”