Thursday October 23, 2014
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23.10.2014
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Zalman Shoval

The Turkey-US-Israel triangle

It seems that every time a Turkish politician comments on Israel they are doing it to tease us. Last week it was the Turkish foreign minister who boasted that his country "succeeded" in isolating Israel and "bringing it to its knees." Behind the Turkish web of insults stand the Islamist neo-Ottoman leanings of the ruling party, which uses the Gaza flotilla debacle as a vehicle for its vitriol.

Ankara's fighting words cannot hide the fact that Turkey's diplomatic and strategic reality is changing, placing their continued hostility against Israel in doubt. Among other things, Turkey cannot ignore the growing tensions between itself and Iran. The tensions are fueled not only by Turkey's consistent condemnations of Syrian President Bashar Assad – Iran's close ally – but also, and perhaps mainly, by the significant ideological and practical differences between the two nations' versions of Islam, as both countries rely on religion to drum up support in the Arab world.

Last week, a senior adviser to Iran's supreme leader accused Turkey of running a "Western-like secular political structure, not suitable or compatible for Middle Eastern countries in the post-Arab Spring era." This is not just an ideological contest – this is something concrete. Who will gain influence in Iraq now that the Americans are gone – Shi'ite Tehran or Sunni Ankara? And there are additional contributing factors: Turkey is a member of NATO, which makes it an ally of the "despised" Americans, and it has agreed to host U.S. missiles aimed at Iran. In response, Tehran has threatened that it would target Turkish bases in retaliation for any potential Israeli or U.S. attack on Iran.

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We can conclude, therefore, that Turkey's ambitious foreign policy has failed: Ankara's policy of befriending close neighbors Iran and Syria (the situation with Bulgaria is less clear) has hit a snag. And yet, the possibility of joining the EU has also been removed from the agenda.

Turkey remains, however, an important U.S. ally. The significance of this alliance will only rise in the face of America's rapid loss of allies in the region. And of course there is Israel – the third side in this strategic triangle. The Turks, even if they are aware of the negative implications of their hostility toward Israel, are not admitting it. We cannot expect things to go back to the way they were either –Turkish pride will not allow it. The U.S. is aware of the situation, but this awareness has not translated into efforts to correct it, for now.

And Israel? Defense officials and economic experts realize Turkey's strategic importance, but their demands over the flotilla incident are irrational and unfair. Our diplomacy should be guided mainly, or only, by whatever serves our interests and not by considerations of pride or respect, however justified they may be.

Good diplomacy means that there is always something that can be done. Ways must be found to reshape the situation – in official channels or otherwise. In order to advance this initiative we must reexamine our past policies, which may have been effective in one avenue but may not be serving Israel's interests currently.

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