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Sunday, September 11, 2011
Turkey To Complicate Life For Israel
By Crispian Balmer
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan
threat to send warships to protect aid convoys to Gaza is unlikely to trigger
conflict with Israel, but the dramatic deterioration in relations between the
onetime allies could jeopardise Israeli energy ambitions. Turkish Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan raised the stakes with Israel on Thursday, saying
he would dispatch the navy to escort any future flotillas to Gaza and prevent a
repeat of an Israeli raid last year that killed nine Turks. Ankara has already
downgraded diplomatic relations with Israel and halted defence trade following
the Jewish state's confirmation last week that it would not apologise for the
deadly 2010 assault on a boat challenging its Gaza blockade.
the intensifying rhetoric, it seems hard to believe that the region's two
biggest military powers, both important allies of the United States, would face
off over the Palestinian enclave Gaza, which is ruled by the Islamist group
Hamas. "It won't turn into a military confrontation, because the Turks
aren't stupid. It's absurd to think a NATO country would get into a military
confrontation with Israel," said Gad Shimron, a retired Mossad officer and
the same token, it seems unlikely that Erdogan will let the matter drop, with
many analysts seeing his repeated criticism of Israel as a calculated bid to
boost his standing in the Arab world and assume a dominant role in the Middle
East. Tellingly, he made his comments to Al Jazeera, the pan-Arabic television
station, upping the ante just days before he is due to visit a trio of Arab
countries, including Egypt, which has itself fallen out with Israel in recent
weeks. "Erdogan thinks the easy target is Israel, but he doesn't know if
it will pay off. He is taking a gamble," said Yossi Shain, a professor at
both Tel Aviv University and Georgetown University in Washington. "He
wants to be the champion of the Arab and Islamic world, but it is not clear
whether he can.
has a much larger navy than Israel but would have to think twice about any
military brinkmanship given the imposing strength of the Israeli air force.
"Keep in mind that were Israel to initiate an interception, say against a
Turkish bid to sail on Gaza, it would have the advantage of choosing the time,
place and deployment strength," a former Israeli admiral told Reuters,
declining to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject. Indicating
there is no imminent danger of a clash, the charity that organised last year's
convoy to the Gaza Strip said on Friday it had no plans for now for another
of that, Turkey has also said it will make its presence felt in the eastern
Mediterranean at a time when Israel is looking to exploit recently discovered
gas fields off its coasts and hook up with Cyprus to build energy facilities.
Turkey does not recognise Cyprus's Greek Cypriot government, while Lebanon has
accused Israel of breaking international law by exploring for gas without an
agreement between the two countries - which are formally at war - on their
maritime border. Israel denies this.
heavy Turkish naval presence near the disputed fields could undoubtedly cause
Israel headaches, just as it thought that it had finally overcome its
longstanding energy shortages. "This is a feasible and significantly
troubling prospect. I imagine it would compromise foreign investment in those
fields," the former admiral said. Israel has sought to play down the
diplomatic crisis, with officials pointing out that the two countries had
already overcome previous rows, such as in 1980 when Turkey curbed ties to
protest at Israel's annexation of Arab East Jerusalem. But back then, Turkey
was a much poorer nation than it is today, and there were very few cultural,
sporting or business links between the two countries.
implications of a falling-out today are much more significant, with trade
between Turkey and Israel worth $3.5 billion last year, helping keep thousands
of people in work. "Turkey is a very strong country today and this is very
serious situation," said Alon Liel, the head of the Israeli diplomatic
mission in Turkey from 1981 to 1983 and a former director general of the
Turkey is an undoubted regional power, it has suffered a difficult few months
due to the Arab uprisings. It has had to retool its foreign policy in Syria and
Libya, losing old allies in the process, and has distanced itself with Iran.
Erdogan is clearly trying to regain the initiative and will have to be careful
not to push things too far. "He has painted Turkey into a very tight corner,"
said Gareth Jenkins, an Istanbul-based security analyst. "Turkey is
squandering the moral capital it had gained after the (2010 flotilla) incident,
in which international public opinion sided with Turkey. But the international
community will be very hostile.
has stayed largely quiet over the past week, urging reconciliation between the
two parties without publicly taking sides. However, much more Turkish
sabre-rattling is sure to fire up passions, with the US Congress fiercely
pro-Israel. "(Erdogan) is about to get a tough response from Washington.
They are watching him and letting him play, but the moment is coming,"
said Shain, who is working in the United States. Erdogan may well be
calculating that Washington cannot afford to imperil relations with Turkey at
such crucial moment for the Middle East, but as with his fight with Israel,
that is a risky bet to take. - Reuters
This analysis was published in The Kuwait Times on 11/09/2011