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Herbert London: Turkey And Israel Reconcile

Terrorists assaulted and killed dozens in the Istanbul airport raising the prospect of Turkey on the precipice of all-out war with ISIS. While this carnage has alarmed citizens across the European continent, there was a political negotiation that holds out some hope for the future, despite a Turkish president who often exemplifies erratic behavior.

Turkish president RecepTayyipErdogan often acts like a political schizophrenic. On the one hand, he may appear as a NATO ally close to the West and, on the other hand, he can be an implacable foe – united with Iran and even ISIS at times. In the maze of bobbing and weaving through the political thickets of Middle East policy, Erdogan has managed to alienate almost every national leader.

President Obama once called him, his “closet ally” on the world stage. That friendship, however, has soured. A momentary pause in the general hostility with Russia came to an end with the Turkish air force taking down a Russian fighter jet. President al Sisi tried to maintain diplomatic ties with Erdogan, but that too broke down over Syrian policy and the possible ouster of BasharAssad.

As a consequence, Erdogan has been stranded; this emerging military power has been isolated by even former friends. In this hostile environment, the Turkish president made what can only be described as a surprising and unlikely decision. Erdogan has signed a reconciliation accord with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

Six years ago when relations reached their nadir it was inconceivable that Israel and Turkey could reach any understanding. That was the year when Turkey supported an attempt to breach the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. The ship – the MaviMarmara – was intercepted by the Israeli navy. Soi disant human rights activists on board ambushed IDF officers with knives and metal rods. In the ensuing struggle, eight Turks and one Turkish-American were killed and several IDF soldiers severely injured. As a result of the incident diplomatic ties between the two nations were severed.

The restoration of relations, one might even describe it as a rapprochement, has been brought about because both nations feel the effect of deepening isolation. Israel is regarded as the Little Satan by Iran and her allies. Despite a thaw in the relations between Israel and the Sunni states, distrust still exists on both sides of this divide.

This impending deal with Turkey would include $20 million in Israeli compensation for the families of those killed in the raid and an end of all Turkish claims against Israeli military personnel and the state of Israel. Still in question are the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war which are believed to be held by Hamas. Turkey agreed to engage in the resolution of this issue.

As Lord Palmerston once noted national interest supersedes all other considerations in international affairs. Hatreds die when national needs emerge.

Israel and Turkey have had a tradition of trade and peaceful exchanges until Erdogan was elected in 2002. Since then the relationship has been tumultuous. However, the development of natural gas and shale oil deposits in the Mediterranean could foster close, perhaps even permanent, ties between the two nations. A new source of natural gas would give Turkey leverage with a Russia that presently has a virtual monopoly over the distribution of gas to Europe.

History has a way of converting yesterday’s enemy into tomorrow’s ally. This reconciliation between Turkey and Israel confirms this observation. The MaviMarmara incident will soon be news of the past, a distant memory of regional hostility. Unfortunately those who were engaged in that battle will be forgotten as well. That is one of the tragedies of history. 

Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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