Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Clash of Interest over Northern Iraq Drives Turkish-Israeli Alliance to a Crossroads

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Clash of Interest over Northern Iraq Drives Turkish-Israeli Alliance to a Crossroads

Article excerpt

Turkey and Israel enjoyed an almost perfect relationship throughout the 1990s that amazed their friends, yet bothered their rivals. The US war in Iraq revealed, however, that the two longstanding allies did indeed have contradictory objectives and concerns with respect to the future restructuring of Iraq. While Turkey fears the emergence of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq, the same possibility seems favorable for Israel from its security standpoint, vis-à-vis threats posed by countries like Iran, Pakistan, and beyond. It appears that the "amazing alliance" is heading toward a crossroads. Such an eventuality may change the nature of the relationship from a "win-win" to a "lose-lose" situation unless proper steps are rapidly taken with a view toward rebuilding confidence on both sides.

The military campaign of the United States against Saddam Husayn in Iraq has caused much damage on both sides, in terms of casualties and devastation. The death toll in the streets of Iraqi cities and towns rises daily. Many incidents that would be labeled as, at least, "tragic" a few years ago now turn out to be ordinary data entries for daily statistics. An assessment of the US Central Intelligence Agency outlined three possibilities for Iraq through the end of 2005 "with the worst case being developments that could lead to civil war."1 Contrary to some relatively optimistic scenarios that have been discussed in the immediate aftermath of the general elections held on January 30, 2005, the future of Iraq is still uncertain in many respects. America's war has also caused much uncertainty about the future of some of the long established relationships among the states in the region. In this context, the deeply rooted Turkish-Israeli relationship2 also shows signs of being a victim of "collateral damage" from the war in Iraq.

In the aftermath of the toppling of Saddam Husayn's regime in April 2003, it became apparent that Israel and Turkey might indeed have conflicting objectives and concerns with regard to the future restructuring of Iraq. When the United States set on to achieve its political goal of establishing a democratic regime in Iraq, the political climate between Turkey and Israel began to worsen. The US effort required the holding of free elections in Iraq to form a representative body, as the first step towards democratization.3 These elections affected the sensitive fabric of Iraqi society as the various groups making up the complex demographic structure of the country each began to make claims which could hardly be universally met. Among these is the conflict between those seeking a secular state, who see it as essential to a modern society, and the effort by Shi'i clerics to see that the legal system conforms to the shari'a. Meanwhile the Kurds, who constitute perhaps 20% of the population, insisted on a veto over any proposed constitution which did not satisfy their demands for autonomy. Others criticized this as anti-democratic because a minority was in effect holding the majority hostage.

Turkey has always been uneasy about the aspirations of Iraqi Kurds; any prospect of Iraq coming apart and the emergence of an indepdendent Kurdish entity in northern Iraq produces wariness among Turkish statesmen and the military alike. While Turkey, once Israel's strategic ally,4 is searching for ways to prevent the creation of a Kurdish state out of Iraqi territory, Israel may be more than happy to see a powerful autonomous Kurdish authority or an independent state in northern Iraq. Since, speculative though it may be, a Kurdish entity with which Israel could conclude, inter alia, a comprehensive military cooperation agreement might be highly beneficial for Israel's security. For reasons that will be elaborated later in this article, such an agreement might enable Israel to build a forward defense capability against potential and active threats emanating from countries such as Iran, Pakistan and beyond, in the medium to long-term. …

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