From Emotional Detachment to Rational Realism: Turkish-Israeli Relations

One could contend that Netanyahu’s phone call and apology to Prime Minister Erdoğan with regard to the Mavi Marmara tragedy, indicates the dawn of a new era in Turkish-Israeli relations. 


This new era is the product of 3 years, starting with the “One Minute” incident between Prime Minister Erdoğan and President Peres in 2009 Davos Economic Forum and intensifying with the Mavi Marmara tragedy in May 2010, in which the relations thus far sustained through emotional, reckless and mutual bickering has been tested against the realities. Therefore the new process that will unfold following the apology should be interpreted as a return to a realist and rational perspective in terms of bilateral relations. 


As is well known, the tensions between the two countries had reached a pinnacle when Israeli soldiers had killed 9 Turkish citizens in international waters. This tragedy has doubtlessly also instigated a process whereby in the last 3 years both sides have learned important lessons. 



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In all meetings Turkey has continued to convey three inviolable preconditions for the easing of tensions and the normalization of relations: Compensation, apology and the lifting of the blockade. 


One should not forget that it was the intense efforts of the United Stated of America which works closely with both countries and the proximity the Obama administration has established with the Turkish government that prevented the tensions between the two countries turning from a temporary crisis to an insoluble and chronic enmity. 


The irreplaceable actors of public diplomacy such as civil society organizations, think-tanks and public intellectuals of both countries have unquestionably played an important role. In fact the determinant factor that has brought the relations to its current state is the presence of such lobbies and individuals who have conveyed their opinion that the cost of keeping relations unresolved had taken its toll on both countries. 


What Does This New Process Bear?


The fact that Prime Minister Erdoğan has accepted the apology, indicates he has been convinced by his counterpart that in the following process the compensation will be paid and the blockade on Gaza lifted. One important aspect to be noted here is that verbal communication does not elicit legal sanctions in international law. However when one considers the ease with which both parties have uttered statements that may otherwise carry an important amount of political cost, one can infer that the two administrations will not have a lot of difficulty in drafting the necessary legal documents. 


This latest development indicates that Turkey’s demands will be met and in return Turkey will provide the close diplomatic and political cooperation that Israel desires. Such cooperation should not only prove once again the futility of Israel’s recent courting of Greece and Southern Cyprus, but also should point to closer relations with Turkey with regards to the Arab Spring and the developments in Syria. 


While the relations no longer carry the risk of becoming chronically insoluble, there are still a lot of bridges to be crossed in the relations. Viewing itself as completely trapped in the region and thinking that its very existence is under question, Israel should indubitably forbear from adopting a solely security based perspective. Therefore it is also important for Turkey to refrain from statements and policies that would hinder the already low confidence of Israel. It is also necessary to indicate that incidents such as the low chair crisis, where Israel has offended Turkey, are still fresh in Turkey’s memory. 


In short, both sides should always keep in mind the damage they have caused each other in the last 3 years as “cases in point”. Since producing rational policies, while refraining from emotional reflexes and relying on real data instead, is only possible through taking lessons from the past.