The Deterioration of Israeli-Turkish Relations before and after the Flotilla Incident

Article excerpt

Ideally, relations between two allied countries are composed of both common interests and common values. This has been the case in U.S.-Israeli relations since 1967, when strategic cooperation against the Soviet Union and its Arab allies was reinforced by the fact that both the United States and Israel were vibrant democracies. When only common interests hold two countries together, the relationship is far less solid, as in the case when the United States cooperated with the Soviet Union during World War II against Nazi Germany, only to drift into the Cold War immediately thereafter when Germany had been defeated. In the case of Israel and Turkey, initially there were both common interests and common values when the relationship between the two countries reached their zenith in the late 1990's, as both countries opposed Syria and were the only genuine democracies in the authoritarian Middle East.

In the last decade, however, and especially since the coming to power of the Islamist AKP (Justice and Development) Party in 2002, relations between the two countries have deteriorated as their common interests disappeared, and Turkey was transformed from a secularist democracy to an increasingly intolerant Islamist state. Indeed, the future of the Turkish-Israeli relationship appears to be dependent on whether the AKP is again victorious in next year's Turkish election.


Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Turkey, which had prided itself as being the southern bastion of NATO against the Soviet Union, looked around for a new foreign policy focus. One renewed goal was the entry into the European Union (EU), which Turkey had been seeking to enter for a number of decades. Another goal was to step into what Turkish leaders thought would be a political vacuum in Central Asia and Azerbaizhan following the collapse of the Soviet

Union, and the emergence of the independent states of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaizhan--all of whom had a Turkic heritage. The Turkish leaders quickly found, however, that the leaders of the new states had no desire to replace one "big brother:" (Russia) with another "big brother" (Turkey).

In any case, the Turkish leadership soon found itself embroiled in the rapidly escalating civil war with its Kurdish community, led by the terrorist PKK organization, particularly in the southeast part of Turkey. The Kurdish revolt was aided and abetted by Syria, which harbored the Kurdish opposition leader, Abdullah Ocalan. The defensive agreement between Greece--another enemy of Turkey--and Syria in 1995 prompted Turkey to respond, and in 1996 a major defense agreement between Israel and Turkey was signed. This forced Syria, which borders Turkey on its north and Israel on its southwest to divide its military forces. In addition, the agreement enabled Israeli pilots to wain in Turkey and Turkish pilots to train in Israel, and it also provided for extensive anti-terrorism cooperation. The close defensive relationship was also to lead to major Israeli arms deals with Turkey, particularly of refurbished and upgraded tanks and planes.

By the late 1990's, the Turkish-Israeli agreement had begun to pay major dividends to Turkey. In 1998, Turkey issued an ultimatum to Syria to expel Ocalan or face a Turkish invasion. With Israeli military forces on its southern border on the Golan Heights, Syria had no choice but to comply with the Turkish demand, and Ocalan was expelled, later to be captured by the Turks with the help of both U.S. and Israeli intelligence, an event that led to a ceasefire between the Kurds and Turkey.

The tie with Israel paid other dividends to Turkey as well. By the late 1990's, Diaspora Armenians had begun to pressure the U.S. Congress to enact a resolution stating that the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor of the Turkish Republic, had committed genocide against its Armenian population during World War I. …