Turkish-Israeli Relations after Davos: A View from Turkey

By Bacik, Gokhan | Insight Turkey, April 2009 | Go to article overview

Turkish-Israeli Relations after Davos: A View from Turkey


Bacik, Gokhan, Insight Turkey


Many aver that the 2009 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos opened a new era in Turkish-Israeli relations. Before expanding on this, it should be made clear that the Davos event meant different things to the Turkish and Israeli public: For the Turks, who believe they have historical and emotional links with the Muslims of Palestine, the bombing of Gaza was a near-traumatic experience. The Gaza factor eroded even the most severe divisions in Turkish politics, bringing together the normally antagonistic parties (conservative, secular, nationalist) in a vehement condemnation of Israel well before the Davos event. As far as the Turks were concerned, therefore, the Turkish prime minister's describing Israel's assault on Gaza as a set of "barbarian" acts was no more than the rhetorical summary of the mood in Turkey. That is why even Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's political opponents publicly declared their support for what he had done. This is most unusual in Turkish politics. Not unexpectedly, however, the Israelis deemed Prime Minister Erdogan's declaration unacceptable: He had accused Israel of committing barbaric crimes, and had ignored her security concerns. More, what Erdogan said was nothing like just another condemnation emanating from an Arab state. This was Turkey speaking, a state that had long treated Israel quite differently. That doubled the psychological effect on the Israeli public.

The analytical tools of political science offer no apt instrument for analyzing this event at Davos. Whatever it was (accident, lapsus lingua, heroism, justice, immoderation...) is less important than how it was understood: The Turks, along with other Muslims across the globe, considered it morally correct, and exactly what Israel deserved. The Israelis and their allies across the globe viewed it as unacceptable. The upshot was that, even if it was an event contextualized in a highly moral framework, the Davos incident per se ceased to be a topic in the discourse about international relations. In other words it is no longer logical to quarrel on the meaning of the event, as it refers to two contending set of meanings for both sides. Yet the Davos case should be seen as an opportunity to revisit the various aspects of Turkish-Israeli relations. An analysis of the complex structures that produced the current situation is needed. Once analyzed, it will become obvious that many people have characterized the Turkish-Israeli relationship without giving proper attention to the complex structures that forged it. Ignoring the causal links, commentators have uprooted this relationship from its social environment, and inevitably put themselves on course for a highly speculative analytical outcome. This article will offer an alternative analysis of the Turkish-Israeli relationship in the light of a number of social structures. Which question should drive the methodological pursuit is easily determined: Why is the Turkish-Israeli alliance fragile?

A Discursive Alliance

Despite the all-pervading rhetoric, analysis will make apparent that the Turkish-Israeli relationship was bred in a discursive milieu that lacked the necessary material infrastructure. Today, the volume of trade between Turkey and Iraq is around $8 billion, (1) and around $10 billion (2) between Turkey and Iran. Not satisfied with the current performance, Turkey is now aiming to increase her trade with both Iraq and Iran. One projected target is a $20 billion trade volume with Iraq. Meanwhile, Turkey's economic relationship with Russia has ballooned to a market volume of $33 billion. (3) Similarly impressive data can be displayed about economic relations with Poland, the Czech Republic and Georgia. In comparison, Turkey's economic relationship with Israel has produced a trade volume of a mere $3.5 billion, (4) which is far from satisfactory. On a descending list of Turkey's yearly export-destination states, Israel is lower even than Libya, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates. …

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