Emotions and honor- out, rational thinking and strategy – in. While we do not have to like it, Netanyahu’s apology to Turkey over the 2009 Marmara incident was a clever and correct decision. Netanyahu made a cold political decision, as he took into consideration the regional developments and Israel’s overall strategic stance. I can only lament the fact that this did not occur earlier. Regarding the circumstances in which the decision was made, while the Americans had an important role in providing the setting and background, the main actors on stage were Netanyahu and Erdogan who acknowledged common interests.
The implications of mending Israel’s ties to the Turks cannot be exaggerated, and definitely surpass the soon to be available cheap holiday deals that are so popular with Israelis. Though I do not see our countries returning to the warm relations of the past, the renewal of the strategic dialogue between us is of paramount importance.
First and foremost, restoring relations with Turkey will facilitate cooperation in countering the spillover from the deteriorating situation in Syria. The use of chemical weapons this week crystallized the danger of Assad’s stockpile falling into the wrong hands. Both Turkey and Israel are well aware that when Assad falls, the power vacuum may be filled by forces not keen on maintaining stability, and driven by anti-western ideology. Indeed, the Middle East is seeing a monumental regional effort, supported by the Americans, to prepare for the day after Assad – Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and now Israel and Turkey. A rapprochement, cold as it may be, between Israel and Turkey must be seen as part of this regional effort.
Secondly, Israel needs Turkey as a strategic balance against Iran and Hezbollah. Despite all appearances, there is no love lost between the Turks and the Iranians. Any American or Israeli move to counter Iranian nuclear ambitions would necessitate the Turks being on board (air-space and air-bases). The Turks can also facilitate a communication channel with the Hamas, a fact that may come in handy when and if negotiations with the Palestinians are renewed.
Thirdly, Israel and Turkey have been negotiating some time now on an energy deal that offers huge economic dividends for both sides. Israel’s recent natural gas findings in the Mediterranean more than fill its immediate and near-future energy needs. Selling the superfluous gas to Turkey helps both sides of the deal – Israel makes a profit and can tap into Turkey’s pipe-line infrastructure to export gas to European destinations via land, and Turkey finds a relatively cheap energy source replacing expensive Russian gas.
In the 1960’s, Ben-Gurion initiatedwhat became known as the “Alliance of the Periphery” – a series of strategic alliances with non-Arab Muslim states in the Middle East to counteract the united opposition of Arab states to the existence of Israel.Turkey played a crucial role in this doctrine, especially after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. Today, with the region undergoing fundamental shifts, and with Israel’s international isolation, Turkey is still a very important cornerstone of Israel’s strategic stance.
So yes, from a purely strategic point of view, Netanyahu’s first major foreign policy decision as third-time Israeli Prime Minister is a very wise one. Do not let Erdogan’s annoying and troubling rhetoric convince you otherwise.