Thursday, December 9, 2010

Smoke Clears Between Israel and Turkey

Israel and Turkey began to mend their frayed ties today with an Israeli commitment to compensate the families of nine Turkish nationals killed in the Mavi Marmara raid this past May. Israel has also agreed to issue an apology, though the use of the word "apologizes" versus "regrets" has been the source of lingering disagreement.

Given the opportunity afforded by Turkey's aid to Israel in last week's Carmel fire, both sides have taken the first available opportunity to repair ties. Contrary to reports that Turkey has "gone over to the dark side" in its relations with Iran and Syria, Turkey's project of becoming a regional mediator between Israel, Iran, and the Arabs appears to be on track.* Based on an ambitious strategy of "Zero Problems" on Turkey's borders, the ruling AKP party in the country seeks to strengthen Turkish hegemony in the Middle East by settling historic differences and building ties throughout the region. This strategy requires advocating for Arab interests and engaging in strategic competition with Iran while simultaneously maintaining cooperation with Israel. Given the immense damage done by the Mavi Marmara issue to Israel-Turkey relations, Turkey's highly visible show of support to Israel during last week's fires is a clear signal of intention to begin the process of mending ties.

One lingering question is how Israeli government compensation to Turkey will affect Prime Minister Netanyahu's political coalition. While perhaps Netanyahu can point to the failure of US pressure towards a settlement freeze, his coalition with the conservative Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas parties have continued to fray. Reaching out to Turkey is not likely to slow this decline. However, given the uncertain state of the peace process, and the general support of Israelis for a strong Israel-Turkey relationship (in principle), mending differences with Ankara is a move whose benefits outweigh its costs.

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