Michael Rubin: Israel’s shortsighted rapprochement with Turkey

Michael Rubin

It’s official: More than six years after Israel’s raid on the Mavi Marmara in international waters, Turkey and Israel have officially buried the hatchet. Israel has already apologized and agreed to pay compensation to the families of the nine Turks killed in the raid (one of whom had dual US citizenship). While Turkey had demanded Israel lift its blockade of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has agreed to a formula in which Turkey will enhance its aid, but ship it through the Israeli port of Ashdod instead of into Gaza directly. Turkey will also stop vetoing Israel’s cooperation with international organizations like NATO and Erdoğan has promised to use Turkey’s good offices to try to convince Hamas to return the bodies of Israeli soldiers missing in Gaza. In addition, the deal makes possible — theoretically at least — greater Israel-Turkey commercial cooperation, especially with regard to gas and water.

Diplomats will say it’s a win-win situation. It’s not.

Diplomats will say it’s a win-win situation. It’s not. Erdoğan precipitated the crisis, using a “charity” affiliated with Al Qaeda, to do its bidding. Even the United Nations concluded that Israel’s interception of the Mavi Marmara in international waters was lawful. Turkey is also sponsoring Hamas, a terrorist group which not only calls for genocide in its founding charter but one which also effectively shreds the Oslo Accords, the 1993 diplomatic agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, the basis for which was the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza and West Bank in exchange for an agreement to recognize Israel’s right to exist and also to cease terrorism. At the very least, Hamas is an unrepentant terror group that thinks little of launching rockets at civilian populations with the hope of killing as many as possible.

Turkey’s leader has proven himself willing to turn on a dime.

Let’s put aside that Israel cannot trust Erdoğan. Turkey’s leader has proven himself willing to turn on a dime, and has betrayed any number of agreements over the years. Just ask Turkey’s Kurds. Because of Erdoğan’s policies, Turkey has also grown isolated. Its tourism revenue has plummeted and it has chilly relations with all of its neighbors. Turkey is also a terror sponsor, not only with regard to Hamas but also with regard to the Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and to the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh).

Erdoğan’s problem with Israel has never been simply diplomatic, but rather has always been ideological and religious. Simply put, Erdoğan is deeply anti-Semitic. By acquiescing to Hamas keeping its offices in Turkey and not first getting Erdoğan to prove his sincerity and leverage by forcing Hamas to give up the bodies of the Jews it killed, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lets Turkey off the hook. Netanyahu might commit to continue to press the issue, but there’s no getting around it: He betrayed the families who were counting on him.

In short, Israel is as shortsighted today as it was when it sought to sell military technology to China (never mind that China sees its chief adversary as the United States) or when it supported the morally repugnant South African Apartheid regime (not that Arab states didn’t—South Africa had to get its oil from somewhere).

Let’s be blunt: Netanyahu is also being a hypocrite. After all, he is the author of Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorists, but seems to ignore the lessons he laid out too not appease or reward terrorism. Turkey needs Israel far more than Israel needs Turkey, especially at a time when relations with Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia are blossoming, even if behind-the-scenes. It would have been far better for Israel to allow Erdoğan to hang himself with a noose of his own making rather than empower Hamas’ sponsor. And, with Erdoğan conducting a slash-and-burn operation against Turkey’s Kurds, it would have been better to side with the Kurds, few of whom have the personal animus toward Israel that Erdoğan does. Indeed, every statement Erdoğan uses to aid Hamas could be turned on its head to justify provision of support to Turkey’s Kurds.

Sometimes, it is far better to stand on principle than to seek short-term gain. Diplomats may celebrate today, but Israelis, Kurds, and other victims of Turkey’s terror will pay the price down the road for Israel’s diplomatic short-sightedness.

Source: American Enterprise Institute

Michael Rubin is a former Pentagon official whose major research areas are the Middle East, Turkey, Iran and diplomacy. Rubin instructs senior military officers deploying to the Middle East and Afghanistan on regional politics, and teaches classes regarding Iran, terrorism, and Arab politics on board deploying U.S. aircraft carriers. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, both pre- and post-war Iraq, and spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. His newest book, Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes examines a half century of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups.

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