So much for a “principled policy” for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s stand against the Jewish state! Ankara decided on Friday, Dec. 21 to step back from its opposition to cooperation between NATO and Israel.
While Turkey’s decision was unexpected, given the Erdogan government’s strong reaction to Israel’s latest Gaza offensive, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s tear-shedding photos from his visit to Gaza and Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s recent reception of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ankara with full honors accorded to a head of state, Ankara’s decision to concede to Israel at this time is a testament that Turkey is really not a play-maker in the region, as its overconfident policy rhetoric suggests.
It was only in May that Turkey blocked Israel’s participation in NATO’s Chicago summit and prevented the Israeli navy from participating in NATO operations. Davutoglu said then that it was not possible for Turkey “to be a partner in any activity with Israel not only in NATO, but in all international institutions and organizations.”
Turkey still publicly insists that Israel apologize and pay compensation for the killing of nine Turks off the coast of Gaza. Ankara also demands that Israel end the Gaza blockade.
Nothing has changed since then in Turkey’s relationship with Israel, but Ankara started to more intensely feel the heat of the painful and long-lasting Syrian crisis. Davutoglu said Turkey is worried about possible missile attacks from Syria, but does not really consider a chemical-weapon threat from the Assad regime. In that context, Ankara appealed to the 28 NATO members to deploy Patriot missiles along the Turkey-Syria border.
NATO responded positively to Ankara’s request, and Turkey’s decision to concede to Israel followed. These developments suggest there is a link between these two decisions.
It’s no secret that the Obama administration has been troubled by Turkey’s decision to block Israel in NATO because of their feud — something that needs to be resolved bilaterally. Sources who asked to remain anonymous suggest that the US actually asked Turkey to soften its position against Israel at this critical time in the region, and that the uncertain path ahead in Syria might make Turkey cooperate with Israel, as well.
NATO sources told Al-Monitor that Turkey proposed in last week's meetings that NATO become more active in patrolling the Eastern Mediterranean and also decided to allow the annual port-visit planning to go ahead without interruption within the context of Operation Active Endeavor, which was initiated in the aftermath of 9/11, bringing together a number of countries to patrol the Mediterranean and share information concerning terrorism and suspicious ships.
Previously, Turkey had blocked an Israeli navy ship to take part in this NATO mission. To the frustration of Americans, it also indirectly prevented a military exercise between the US and Israel.
"The US and Israel had a scheduled military exercise, but those American ships that were going to participate in that exercise were flagged under the NATO Southern Naval Maritime Group. Turkey argued that those ships belong to NATO and could not participate in a military exercise outside its mandate,” this source told Al-Monitor.
Last week, however, the Erdogan government decided not to go public in its opposition to Israel.
“Turkey has not provided any written document to NATO that says a word about Israel’s participation to Operation Active Endeavor and Ocean Shield. But it’s clear that Turkey has taken a step back, and agreed to allow the plan to be executed with a condition to re-examine on a case-by-case basis the visits to Israeli ports. Only time will tell how this is going to work, but we sense that Turkey decided for its own security interests to soften its position against Israel,” the source added.
Tulin Daloglu is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. She has written extensively for various Turkish and American publications, including The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, The Middle East Times, Foreign Policy, The Daily Star (Lebanon) and the SAIS Turkey Analyst Report. She also had a regular column at The Washington Times for almost four years.