|ANKARA - Relations between Turkey and Israel have a long and dramatic history, but over time the two countries have transcended their differences and grown closer in light of a mutual interest in promoting a democratic Middle East and, according to experts, Turkeys outspoken stance this time around will be no different
Israeli aggression against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip will not stunt the growing ties between Israel and Turkey, despite that the Turkish government has become the most outspoken state in criticizing the Israeli government.
"I do not think that relations will deteriorate because there are fundamental reasons why Turkey and Israel have the same interests. Both are democratic states and influence the region in becoming a democratic one," Zvi Elpeleg, former Israeli ambassador to Turkey told Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in a telephone interview yesterday.
In an already complicated geography, Turkey-Israel ties constitute another complexity with ups and downs throughout the years. Although Turkey was one of the first states that recognized the State of Israel in 1948, the level of diplomatic relations could only be taken to ambassadorial level in 1991.
Since then, Turkish-Israeli ties have shown a constant improvement as a part of Washington-made plan to create new pro-Western alliances in the region. A particular progress has been witnessed in the field of the defense industry that deepened ties between the two countries militaries. Turkey is still using Israeli-made equipment in its fight against the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, including the unmanned aerial vehicles called Heron. Trade between the two countries has reached nearly $3 billion with increased investment by both countries companies. While Turkey has become one of the most preferred tourism destinations for Israelis, the Turkish government has chosen Israel as a partner in a huge energy project to carry Russian gas to India via Israel.
Started in 1958 by a covert visit by David Ben Gurion, the founder of Israel, Turkish-Israeli ties have now become strategic and neither of the parties can risk losing them. That is why Gurion reportedly said years ago when describing ties between the two: "Turkey treats us as its mistress. But we have already married and Turkey fails to accept this."
It is perhaps Gurions description that explains why the good ties do not stop Turkish politicians severely slamming Israel when civilian Palestinians are hurt in military operations. Bülent Ecevit, the former prime minister, had accused Israel of genocide in the early 2000s, causing a crisis between the two countries. Similarly, current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Israel was creating a humanitarian tragedy with its disproportional use of force against Palestinians.
For Elpeleg, the overall reaction of Turkish people is understandable. "I am very much aware of how sensitive Turkish people are about Palestinians, unlike the Arab world. They are in fact more sensitive than Arabs," he said. But Elpeleg said he found Erdoğans words to be emotional and were a surprise to the Israeli people.
Erdoğan the harshest
"Turkey should be one of those countries that best understands Israel because it suffers from the PKK," he said. Elpeleg did not say Israelis expectations of Turkey were to be more tolerant toward Israel just because of its own fight against terrorism.
Like Elpeleg, Uri Bar Ner who served in Ankara as Israels ambassador, also said bilateral ties would overcome these bitter times as they had in the past. "Because the ties between the two countries are very strong. It is very important for Turkey to be associated with Israel, the second democracy in the Middle East, in addition to Turkey," Bar Ner said in a telephone interview with the Daily News yesterday. "Defense relations are excellent, the $2.6 billion trade volume is important for both countries." That is why the former ambassador thinks that bilateral ties will not be very affected by the ongoing situation, but he also hinted that even though some Sunni Arab countries and Egypt regard Hamas as an unwanted terrorist organization, the Turkish stance is causing confusion.
"Erdoğan called us a terrorist state, but I think we will surely overcome this." Bar Ner said, adding that Israeli policymakers were not going to respond to Erdoğan, but would continue dialogue with the Turkish government. "However, let me tell you that any vehement rhetoric against Israel is not helpful."