Turkey and the Israel Problem

The normalising of Turkey-Israel relations since the establishment of Israel in the19th century has been strained by default.

Turkey-Israel relations have ‘normalised’ during the AK Party administration and continue to normalise without interruption. I realise the first sentence appears peculiar at first, but what I meant by that is this – contrary to common belief, the normalising of Turkey-Israel relations since the establishment of Israel in the 19th century has been strained by default. The short periods of time when Turkey-Israel relations seemed to be ameliorating were atypical. The historical scene invoked in popular culture when Israel is mentioned is the disagreement between the Zionists and Abdul Hamid II, the third to last of the Ottoman Sultans. 

It was 19 June, 1896. Theodor Herzl, the father of political Zionism, had just offered an attractive package to Sultan Abdul Hamid II, via his messenger Philip Michael Nevlenski in exchange for his consent to establish the new Jewish state in Palestine. The offer was going to be renewed several times via various messengers between the years of 1896 and 1902. Nevlenski reported to Herzl the next day that the Sultan would not hear of the plan. He had responded: 

If Mr. Herzl is as much your friend as you are mine, then advise him not to take another step in this matter. I cannot sell even a foot of land, for it does not belong to me, but to my people. My people have won this empire by fighting for it with their blood and have fertilised it with their blood. We will again cover it with our blood before we allow it to be wrested away from us. The men of two of my regiments from Syria and Palestine let themselves be killed one by one at Plevna. Not one of them yielded; they all gave their lives on that battlefield. The Turkish Empire belongs not to me, but to the Turkish people. I cannot give away any part of it. Let the Jews save their billions. When my Empire is partitioned, they may get Palestine for nothing. But only our corpse will be divided. I will not agree to vivisection (Herzl, 1960, p. 378 June 19, 1896, The complete diaries of Theodor Herzl. New York: Herzl Press and T. Yoseloff). 

From this perspective, the most “atypical period” of Turkey-Israel relations was the period that immediately followed the ousting of the Erbakan administration by the military on 28 February 28, 1997. After 1997, the Kemalist tutelage regime followed a policy to maintain “strategic relations” with Israel. This policy was followed until Erdogan took office in 2002. The first signs of deterioration in this phase of strategic relations had actually come when the then Prime Minister Ecevit, from the Democratic Left Party (DSP), called Israel’s massacre in the Jenin governorate a genocide. 

In recent years, Turkey not only objected to the plans of the American neocons to keep Syria under pressure during the Iraqi occupation, it began to take steps that altered Israel centred approaches to the Middle East. Turkey, having angered the neocons by not becoming an accomplice to the occupation of Iraq, proved its intention to follow a different policy by normalising its relations with Syria. When Turkey invited Khaled Mashaal to Turkey, in 2006, in a clear display of its intention to carry out diplomatic relations with the elected Hamas government, Turkey-Israel relations shifted to another level. 

Israel, having interpreted Turkey’s intention accurately, retreated from Lebanon despite its association with Hamas. Immediately after the retreat, it initiated the talks to resolve its problems with Syria by way of Turkey and made great progress during 2007-2008. Just when an agreement was about to be reached between Israel and Syria, Olmert, without any forewarning, ordered an incursion into the Gaza strip. After this attack, Turkey-Israel relations never stood a chance. 

A year later, yet another chapter in Turkey-Israel relations began when Erdogan strongly criticised the Israeli president and left the stage during a live broadcast in Davos.  The strained relations were completely se

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