One would have had to be very naive to think that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would turn into an enthusiastic lover of Israel overnight. Even after Israel's telephone apology last Friday, it appears that Erdoğan simply enjoys annoying Jerusalem. Turkey's interests and its relationships with the U.S. and NATO compelled Erdoğan to answer the phone call, which was initiated by U.S. President Barack Obama. Although Erdoğan agreed to accept Israel's apology this time, he is struggling to change his tune.
Since the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2009 (where Erdoğan launched a verbal assault on President Shimon Peres), the Turkish prime minister has had a real Pavlovian response every time he hears the word "Israel." It appears that it will be impossible to recondition this reflex as long as Erdoğan is still prime minister. And perhaps Erdoğan wants us to lower our expectations. Erdoğan may need the U.S. and Israel because of his concerns over the disintegration of Syria, but he is currently looking like a husband who decided to stay with his wife just because of the mortgage.
Israel had many good reasons to be interested in restoring ties with Turkey. Not just the military, but the intelligence and business communities also wanted it. As did the average Israeli tourist, no less importantly.
Turkey demanded three things: An apology, financial compensation for the families of the nine Turks killed on the Mavi Marmara and the lifting of the Gaza blockade. Israel had no problem agreeing to pay compensation. The apology was the tough part.
Now, less than a week after Israel's apology, it appears there are still disagreements regarding the amount of compensation and the Gaza blockade. Erdoğan certainly won't make life easy for us when he soon visits Gaza, with the approval of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, and stands next to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. But we didn't expect to feel that only several days after Israel's apology, Erdoğan would already be making us feel that we had eaten a frog along with our matzah this year. And that's even before mentioning that the Turks have now declared that they can't stop the legal proceedings underway against Israel Defense Forces officers and the naval commandos who boarded the Mavi Marmara.
But not everything in Turkey is bad. Israel has many friends in the Turkish defense and diplomatic communities. Also, the Turkish street is not necessarily hostile toward Israel. There were differences of opinion between Israel and Turkey before Erdoğan took power in 2003, but Erdoğan appears to have a personal beef with Israel. In the overall Israel-Turkey relationship, it seems that Erdoğan is the main problem.
March has been a very special month for Turkey. First, there was the historic reconciliation with the Kurds. From a Turkish prison, Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Öcalan called for a cease-fire. Erdoğan is seeking to fulfill former Turkish President Turgut Özal's dream of bringing the Kurds of Iraq (the oil-rich northern region), Syria and of course Turkey itself into his embrace. If he succeeds, Erdoğan will have brought between 25 and 30 million people into his camp.
Speaking about the Kurds, Erdoğan has said that he was willing to swallow the poison. It could be that those words were also meant for us.