Opinion: Where are Turkish-Israeli relations heading?

Ironically, Israel now has better relations with the Arab Egyptian regime than with non-Arab Turkey.

By: Daniel Krygier, World Israel News

Modern Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion developed the so-called periphery doctrine, which sought to strengthen Israel’s ties with non-Arab countries considered friendly, such as Iran and Turkey.

In an ironic twist of history, Iran and Turkey are today seeking to be more Arab than the Arabs in their opposition towards Israel. While the Iranian Ayatollah regime is today the greatest existential threat to Israel, Turkey has emerged as Israel’s greatest foe in the diplomatic arena.

Israeli-Turkish relations started well in the post-Ottoman era with Turkey being the first Muslim-majority country to recognize the State of Israel. Turkey was hailed for decades by the West as the role model of a progressive Muslim country that embraced democracy and modernity.

While far from being a Western democracy, Turkey was indeed for decades an island of semi-modernity in a Muslim world that overwhelmingly rejected modernity. The guardians of this relatively modern and secular Turkey were the military, which enjoyed strong ties with the Israeli Defense Forces.

This worked as long as Turkey, a NATO member, remained committed to its modern founder Mustafa Atatürk’s secular, pro-Western ideology.

Little to do with Arab-Israeli conflict

The undeniable deterioration of ties between Ankara and Jerusalem is ultimately a reflection of domestic changes within Turkey that have little to do with Israel or the Arab-Israeli conflict. The 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla crisis between Turkey and Israel was a result, and not the source, of the deteriorating relations between the former allies.

Under the increasingly despotic and Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey is moving away from pro-Western secularism and increasingly embracing radical Islam. Some have blamed the EU’s rejection of Turkey as a potential member state as the source of the Islamic radicalization in Turkey. While this may be partly true, it does not tell the whole story.

Turkish society is deeply divided between pro-Western secularists and Islamists. Higher birth rates among Islamists have brought the Islamist Erdoğan to power. Under the increasingly despotic Erdoğan, Turkey is moving into a neo-Ottoman and Islamic direction that seeks to establish Ankara as a leading power in the Islamic world.

Turkey’s strategy in the Middle East

Erdoğan’s embrace of the Hamas terror organization is part of Ankara’s strategy to enhance its influence in the Arab Street and the wider Middle East. No policy change in Jerusalem can change this course. Quite the opposite. Obama’s pressure on Israel to apologize for the Turkish flotilla aggression has only emboldened Erdoğan to embrace an explicitly anti-Semitic ideology that demonizes and delegitimizes the Jewish state.

Ironically, Israel now has better relations with the Arab Egyptian regime than with non-Arab Turkey. Bullies like Erdoğan only respect force, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is, correctly, responding forcefully to Turkish provocations.

In the past, Turkey was seen as Israel’s gateway to the Middle East. However, the Iranian nuclear crisis has brought Israel closer to key Sunni Arab states. In other words, Israel no longer needs Turkey to build bridges to the Arab world.

As long as the Islamists are in power in Ankara, Turkish-Israeli relations will likely move from one diplomatic crisis to the next.