The Changing Dynamics of Turkey's Relations with Israel: An Analysis of 'Securitization'

By Balci, Ali; Kardas, Tuncay | Insight Turkey, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

The Changing Dynamics of Turkey's Relations with Israel: An Analysis of 'Securitization'


Balci, Ali, Kardas, Tuncay, Insight Turkey


Turkish-Israeli relations have seriously soured to an all-time low. In 2009, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stormed off the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos after a spectacular exchange with the Israeli president over Israel's "Operation Cast Lead" in Gaza. More tragically the infamous Flotilla Attack followed: an Israeli military raid on an international aid convoy to Gaza left nine Turkish peace activists dead. After the leak of the UN's Palmer Commission report, which accused Israel of using "excessive force" against the flotilla but legitimized the Israeli blockade of Gaza, Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador and scaled back diplomatic relations. Added to this, Israel was quick to suggest that the AKP government was aligning Turkey with the likes of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran instead of its strategic ally, Israel.

This current picture of relations is remarkable when one considers that Israel was one of Turkey's strongest allies in the region just a decade ago. Thus, this present study seeks to answer the following questions: Why has the unparalleled and positive nature of relations in the 1990s been replaced with a hostile and toxic environment in the 2000s? How can this difference in the relations between the 1990s and 2000s be explained? To answer such questions, this article uses the Copenhagen School's theory of 'securitization'. (1) This approach not only helps to illustrate the characteristics of different periods in Turkish-Israeli relations, it also helps to highlight the specificity of the politics of civil-military relations in foreign policy making. More specifically, the securitization framework provides many insights into how the military top brass could have a privileged role in the formation of foreign policy. Similarly, it also helps to explain how it becomes possible for governments and civil society organizations to reverse this privileged role in their favor. As such, the securitization theory proves helpful in understanding the nature of the military's role in Turkish-Israeli relations and unearthing many hitherto missing links necessary to reveal how the changes between the two periods occurred.

The first section of this article seeks to briefly explain the main contours and workings of securitization. The second section then examines the role of securitization in the bourgeoning Turkish-Israeli relationship of the 1990s. The final section focuses on the gradual reversal of securitization (namely 'desecuritization') in the Turkish political landscape and the consequent manifestations of this desecuritizing (and re-politicizing) on relations with Israel in the first decade of the 2000s.

Securitization: How Does It Work?

According to the Copenhagen School (the CS), a public issue can be located on the spectrum ranging from non-politicized (when the state does not deal with the issue) through to politicized (when the issue is part of public policy requiring government decision), securitized (when the issue is presented as an existential threat justifying going "beyond normal politics") and desecuritized (meaning the issue is not defined as a threat and moved into the public sphere of deliberation). (2) For the CS, "politicization means to make an issue appear to be open, a matter of choice, something that is decided upon and that therefore entails responsibility." (3)

Securitization is a move from the politicized to the realm of (state) security and it "takes politics beyond the established rules of the game and frames the issue either as a special kind of politics or above politics." (4) For the CS, securitization involves three types of units: referent objects, securitizing actors, and functional actors. The referent object is something which is thought "to be existentially threatened." (5) Although the referent object for security has traditionally been the state, securitizing actors can in principle attempt to construct almost anything (e.

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