Monday, January 18, 2010

Turkish-Israeli Alliance on Thin Ice

The hint of discord between Gonul’s and Erdogan’s attitudes toward Israel reveal discord in Ankara or is Israel being offered its last chance to avoid alienating Turkey by learning to live as a good neighbor?

Turkish Defense Minister Gonul calls Turkey and Israel “strategic allies,” while Erdogan criticizes the West’s biased position that Israel can be nuclear while Iran cannot and condemns Israel for its brutal attack on Gaza.

That’s a pretty glaring contradiction. In what sense can Turkey be a strategic ally of a country that has put nuclear arms into the region while Turkey wants, according to Erdogan, equal treatment of all on the nuclear issue? Turkey now seems actively to be undermining the U.S. anti-Iran sanctions policy with its new economic accords with Iran and refused to endorse the IAEA’s Nov. 27, 2009 resolution censuring Iran’s nuclear stance – thus opposing two key strategic Israeli foreign policy goals. The week after the resolution, Erdogan reportedly defended Turkey’s abstention and implicitly criticized the West’s emphasis on pressuring Tehran, observing, "I believe that was a very rushed process because certain steps could be taken in a more consultative fashion.”

In what sense can Turkey be a strategic ally of a country that practices collective punishment against Gazans when Erdogan says his policy is good-neighborliness? In an interview with Daniel Levy, Turkish professor Bulent Aras portrayed Ankara as viewing security as mutual – not a choice between Israeli and Palestinian security but as “inter-related.” Such a perspective is not only far more sophisticated than that of the blatantly zero-sum perspective of the ruling Israeli rightwing elite, it is a fundamentally different view of the world. It is hard to imagine how a country viewing security as zero-sum can be an ally of a country viewing security as inter-related. The former implies crushing adversaries; the latter implies compromising with adversaries.

If Gonul’s wording does not reflect factional discord in Ankara, it would seem at least to indicate some disarray and clouded thinking on the part of Ankara’s strategists.

Gonul’s record of support historical ethnic cleansing in Turkey suggests he may be more willing to excuse Israel’s behavior toward Muslims than Erdogan is. Whatever the relevance of the defense minister’s perspective on Turkey’s historical behavior toward its minorities, he appeared to be trying hard to maintain a military relationship with Israel that provides Turkey with high technology for use in attacking dissident Turkish Kurds.

The disconnect between a Turkish policy of good neighborliness with regional states and its treatment of its own Kurdish minority is a blatant flaw in Turkey’s position, one that Ankara is visibly wrestling with and one that is highlighted by Turkey’s continuing military ties to Israel.

The suggestion of factionalism in Ankara over ties with Israel remains just that…a possibility. An alternative possibility is that Erdogan is using the double message of willingness to continue strategic ties but only to the degree that Israel itself begins to adopt a good neighbor policy, i.e., end the collective punishment of Gazans and learn to live with Iran.

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