Turkey and Israel are each increasingly angry at the other, after a long period of getting on well. This included trade and military cooperation ever since Turkey recognised Israel in 1948. The US largely encouraged the two countries’ ties in the interest of fostering greater regional stability.
But what Israel called ‘Operation Cast Lead’ in late 2008 pushed relations to breaking point. Israel’s attack on Gaza, saying it was to stop rocket fire into Israel and prevent weapons from getting into the Hamas-governed strip, included a heavy Palestinian civilian death toll.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan unleashed a fury on Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Davos forum: “You have a very strong voice,” he said. “I feel that you perhaps feel a bit guilty and that is why perhaps you have been so strong in your words, so loud. Well, you killed people.”
This public incident was the equivalent of a fist in the face in diplomatic terms. And more was to follow.
Turkey’s ambassador to Israel would be kept waiting like an errant student, summoned to explain what was considered an outrage by Israel in a Turkish TV drama portraying Mossad agents in a bad light. The ambassador was given a low seat to sit on, and was further humiliated by the absence in the interview room of the Turkish flag. Ankara took it badly.
Far worse came the following year, when, in May 2010, a group of pro-Palestinian vessels sailed from Istanbul with humanitarian credentials towards Gaza, its activists saying they planned to break the Israeli blockade. Israel responded. Nine Turkish passengers on the Mavi Marmara were killed. Ankara recalled its ambassador and demanded an official apology. It did not get one.
A UN report later said the Israelis had acted in legitimate self-defence but used excessive force. That was just a few days ago.
Erdogan said: “We have downgraded diplomatic relations with Israel to the second secretary level. We have also suspended trade, military and defence industry relations, and different sanctions are to come.”
There was also talk of a military escort for Turkish vessels destined for Gaza. Erdogan said not only does Turkey have a plan ‘B’ but also a plan ‘C’, raising the tension level.
So, in this heightened climate of mutual distrust, is it a good time for the Turkish Prime Minister to travel to the countries in the region touched by the Arab Spring? What, if any, will be the effect on relations between the two countries?
euronews spoke to journalist Mete Çubukçu, from NTV in Turkey, who said, “The Arab Spring has been a period of transformation and restructuring in the Middle East. In the short term, we need to look at Syria, we need to see how Libya will shape its structure. Turkey is working on the long-term, by trying to create a policy that says they care about the needs of the people. Do you think Israel can interpret this . Personally, I doubt it. The government has shown no ability to read the signs. They stay silent. They will not make any efforts with the peace process and now it looks as though they are friendless. Thanks to the Arab Spring, new governments will be elected democratically.
Israel seems to have been more comfortable working with the old-style authoritarian regimes, so it will find things more difficult. I think they will be isolated in the region. I think they will feel more threatened from the outside.”