Israel Should Not Turn Its Back on Turkey, Despite Erdogan’s Outrages
Recent signs indicate that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been very keen to score foreign policy achievements. Ultimately, Erdogan’s efforts can be tied to the poor state of the Turkish economy, multiple domestic crises, and his resounding foreign policy failures.
Turkey’s economic situation can be described as an ongoing avalanche, and this situation is made worse by Ankara’s failure to gain control of the coronavirus. Turkey’s struggle to get hold of sufficient numbers of vaccines, despite its agreement with China, is a major source of concern for Erdogan.
Unlike his first four years in power, when Erdogan was able to create a sense of economic stability and continuity from his predecessors, using the same tools they employed to try and turn traditional central Turkey into a more prosperous region, today Erdogan is far removed from such visions.
The Turkish lira is down by 12 percent since mid-March, over four million people are unemployed, and traditional Muslim sectors of Turkish society are losing out economically, thereby jeopardizing their support for Erdogan. Significant migration from Turkey is underway.
Prior to Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party coming to power in 2002, Turkey ran a secular, free economy; but it was Turkey’s inner cities and their traditional communities that rejected the secular approach and helped elect Erdogan.
Now that they too are part of the economic problem, Erdogan’s base, and his political situation, are under threat.
Erdogan has little to be happy about foreign policy-wise either. Regional dynamics have seen a crystallization of an Israeli- Sunni bloc, which firmly excludes Turkey.
Erdogan does not have many good foreign policy options and has no achievements whatsoever to point to. He has remained locked in diplomatic conflict with Europe since the failed 2016 coup in Turkey, and is embroiled in a long-term diplomatic crisis with the US, due to his purchase of S-400 missile defense systems from Russia. The latter move has seen Turkey’s role in NATO placed under a troubling question mark — a far cry from NATO’s traditional view of Turkey as a key component of its front against threats from the East.
When taken together, such factors can explain why Erdogan has been sending out feelers to Israel, in a bid to rekindle the badly damaged bilateral relationship.
Erdogan understands that without a connection to Israel, he will not be able to influence the Middle East. He also views ties with Jerusalem as his best bet to influence the new Biden administration — despite diplomatic tensions between President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
As a result, Turkey’s feelers should be seen as a serious attempt to improve ties. The same factors have led Erdogan to attempt to salvage Turkey’s damaged relations with Egypt.
A common interest in resolving the situation in Libya, which affects both Cairo and Ankara, has formed a backdrop to fresh Turkish-Egyptian talks, although Cairo has shown less motivation than Ankara in pursuing this channel. And despite agreements with Moscow, Russian forces are acting with a greater degree of freedom on Turkey’s border with Syria.
Despite the common assumption that Iran is a partner of Turkey, the two countries are in fact in conflict. Iran is busy trying to build its hegemonic axis across Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.
Meanwhile, at home, troubles for Erdogan keep mounting. Not only is Turkey suffering a serious unemployment problem, but it is also now facing a student revolt. Navy reserve officers are apparently turning against the Erdogan government as well, as seen in a series of arrests and investigations conducted against them by Turkish security forces.
Erdogan has pulled Turkey out of a European women’s rights treaty and has proven himself incapable of accepting LGBT rights.
Without a doubt, Erdogan is facing one of his most difficult moments since rising to power. He has failed to achieve a single objective that he set for himself — foreign or domestic — and is in a weak position.
The question arises: how can Erdogan maintain an Islamist ideology and his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, while still sending feelers out to Israel and Egypt?
In Erdogan’s mind, it is possible to support the Muslim Brotherhood’s social welfare and religious agendas without being seen as a terror supporter. But that hasn’t stopped Erdogan from hosting Hamas’ terrorist headquarters on Turkish soil.
These factors can act as major stumbling blocks when it comes to thawing relations with Israel. Still, Erdogan views Israel as a good bet to improve his situation vis-à-vis the US and Europe.
Turkey’s announcement at the end of March that it is ready to officially exchange ambassadors with Israel after a deep freeze is highly significant.
This is an important offer, and Israel should examine the best way to accept it. While defense relations will never go back to what they were prior to Erdogan’s appearance, economic relations between Israel and Turkey are continuing to do well. Turkey’s geostrategic weight and trade ties with Israel mean that maintaining strong ties with it is a serious Israeli interest.
As a result, Jerusalem should consider Turkey’s offer to exchange ambassadors with interest, without playing “public honor games.” Israeli conditions for such an exchange should be sent privately, through diplomatic channels, while publicly, proper diplomatic relations should be reinstated.
Those same private channels are the place to address Turkey’s relations with Hamas, rather than in newspaper headlines.
Additionally, none of the above should harm Israel’s prospering alliance with Greece and Cyprus, which includes military cooperation and working together on natural gas, as well as bilateral tourism agreements. Working to repair relations with Turkey is not a zero-sum game when it comes to Israel’s strategic alliance with Greece. Both interests should be pursued simultaneously.
Ambassador Pinhas Avivi is a publishing Expert at The MirYam Institute. Ambassador Avivi is a former Senior Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israel, where he was responsible for global, strategic and multilateral affairs. He served as Israel’s Ambassador to Chile, Colombia and Turkey.
The MirYam Institute is the leading international forum for Israel focused discussion, dialogue, and debate, focused on campus presentations, engagement with international legislators, and gold-standard trips to the State of Israel. Follow their work at www.MirYamInstitute.org.