After Erdogan made a grand speech about rethinking Turkish-Israeli ties, Erdogan officially lowered diplomatic relations and suspended all military ties with Israel last night and this morning. Turkey, still rightfully upset with Israel, has decided to put some action behind their words and do this move. But what does the move intend to do? Is Turkey sending a message to Israel, or is this the beginning of the loss of Israel’s most important Middle Eastern and Muslim ally?
The Turkish-Israeli alliance has been strong since 1950 when each sought something from the other. Turkey saw closer ties with Israel as a chance to warm itself to European countries and the United States (to eventually join NATO), while Israel saw a strong military state in a region with few friends as a godsend. The relationship blossomed for each with tangible benefits, while not fully succeeding in a few important pieces. Turkey felt that the ties with Israel, after the establishment of the EU, would give it a positive rating into joining the EU and reaping the benefits. This obviously has not panned out so far for Turkey. Turkey has seen Israel’s image slowly become worse and worse, rightfully, and could potentially be seeking alternate routes to get in the good graces of the EU. One of Israel’s biggest debacles recently was the killing during the Mavi Marmara. Turkey feels that Israel has abused its relationship beyond the norm and has asked for an official apology, which for Israel is one of the last things they ever do. Turkey therefore is seeing little incentive to maintain the ever so close ties, and on top of that, Israel killed 9 of its citizens. I personally do not see this as an isolated incident.
Turkey has realized the past 15 or so years of its strategic assets in many different fields. Almost every pipeline from Asia and the Middle East goes through Turkey, minus a few through Eastern Europe that get shut off from time to time. Turkey also has a very strong army and has put down most if not all of the ethnic problems in its country. Turkey did not suffer like the rest of Iraq’s neighbors that have a massive influx of Iraqi refugees for obvious reasons. The refugees have mostly been Arabs and would have had to pass through Iraqi Kurdistan and risk problems. Turkey has also been very stable considerably since the mid 90s and more so since the early 2000s. Few remember, but Turkey was very defiant against the US when the US invaded Iraq. The US took Turkey’s alliance for granted and assumed Turkey would allow the US to invade from multiple fronts from Turkish territory. Turkey flat out refused, not feeling the need to play the role of collaborator in a war that could have resulted terribly for Turkey. Turkey has for the past decade also been developing relations with countries it only had minimal or no relations with before such as Syria, Iraq, Iran, Brazil, India, and China. Turkey has also become a decent exporter of goods that can be seen all over the Middle East. Lastly, Turkey has not sought EU entrance as much since Erdogan assumed power, deeming the relationship to be not as important for multiple reasons. The first being the hypocrisy and racism espoused by the EU in selecting Romania and Bulgaria to go to the EU but refusing Turkey. Second, Turkey has found markets that involve less regulation for their goods, such as those mentioned.
This I feel shows a pattern of Turkey reassessing its relationship in the region and on a global scale. Turkey has put itself in a position of trying to create a self sufficient economy, while asserting its role in the region. This is important for many reasons. Turkey has played the role of a military base and a taken for granted partner by the West (the US in particular) and has come to a point where it does not have to anymore. Second, Turkey has realized that they could be a regional superpower but that puts them in competition with Israel which brings up many potentials. Turkey is more important than Israel, let’s be honest. Turkey has a stronger economy overall and for potential sake. The Turkish economy is growing at a great rate and has many undeveloped sectors, as opposed to Israel which is stuck in a service sector economy with little chance of getting out, with a population that is highly educated and utilized. Turkey also has the oil weapon that few states have, especially Israel. Turkey’s Kurdish issue has almost disappeared from world discussion while Israel’s conduct in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and occasionally in Lebanon are always discussed and a thorn in Israel’s side.
This move by Turkey may seem to have resulted from a problem with Israel in the killing of 9 of its citizens, but I think it is of a larger reassessment of Turkey’s relations with the regional and world. Turkey has the chance of being a regional superpower and controlling vital resources to the world, and takes the killing of 9 of its citizens as an insult to its status. Arab states, very weak, may not be able to do much in the face of its citizens being killed by Israel, but Turkey does not have to follow this route. Israel, if it wishes to not lose its 2nd most important ally in the world, may wish to eliminate this animosity as quickly as possible. At this point an apology may not be enough, and concessions on other issues may be in order. Turkey has come to realize what Robert Gates did, that Israel is the most ungrateful of allies.