Prominent members of Israeli society, varying from bank governors to politicians and columnists, have begun to loudly question whether their government made the right move by not caving into Turkey's demands for the normalization of bilateral relations with their country.
Israeli media has given place to a considerable number of articles reviewing the dire consequences of Israel's refusal to offer an apology and compensation to Turkey since Ankara on Friday ejected the Israeli ambassador after Israel refused to apologize for a deadly military raid on a Gaza-bound ship that killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American last year. Israel expressed regret for the loss of lives, but was not prepared to apologize for upholding its naval blockade on Hamas-ruled Gaza, which the ship had tried to breach. The dispute has brought relations between the once-close allies to the verge of collapse, and injected a new element of instability into an already volatile region, prompting different voices in Israel to speak against their government's stubbornness.
Israel's former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was one of those voices. “I'm the last one who would say that the statements made by Turkish prime ministers and chief representatives over the last two years and the last few days are music to my ears,” Olmert said late on Sunday while speaking at a regional conference held in Tel Aviv. “But based on my personal and intimate acquaintance with this leadership, I would like to say -- it isn't automatically and necessarily an enemy of Israel.
Over the years we have succeeded in building a relationship with Turkey that we, across the political map, have defined as relations of the utmost strategic importance to Israel,” Olmert cautioned. “Turkey is not Israel’s enemy and Israel is not Turkey’s enemy. Turkey has previously functioned as a bridge to important and sensitive contacts of the highest importance to our interests, and it can continue to be so in the future,” he said.
Delivering a speech at the same conference on Monday, Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer warned that the consequences of not having trade relations with Turkey would be expensive for Israel.
“[The] Turkish economy is growing at an exceptional rate,” Fischer was quoted as saying by Israeli daily Haaretz. “They have great entrepreneurs and a European trained labor force. Turkey will be a big market in the region and a major exporter. The consequences of not having trading relations with Turkey will be expensive,” Fischer said.
Stressing that inter-regional trade in the Middle East region is small and that it will still remain so even if it opens up, Fischer added: “Our inter-regional trade does not amount to very much at the moment, but it would be of benefit if it grew.”
The conference at which Olmert’s and Fischer’s remarks on relations with Turkey came was hosted by Israel’s Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom.
An analysis published on Monday by leading Israeli daily The Jerusalem Post also focused on what losing Turkey’s friendship meant for Israel as a country surrounded with high security concerns in the volatile Middle East region.
The article penned by Yaakov Katz and titled “More to lose in crisis with Turkey than meets the eye,” argued that for Israel, “Turkey was more than just a country with airspace and waters in which to train.”
Katz highlighted Turkey’s bilateral cooperation with Israel in the fight against terror, while calling Ankara a “confidant when it came to sensitive intelligence information regarding attacks against Israel or terrorist plans throughout the region.”
“In short, Israel could be losing not only a diplomatic and military ally but also a partner in the war on terror. This could mean that Israel will not have someone to pass on information to in the event that it knows of plans to perpetrate attacks in Turkey or elsewhere in the region, and that the Turks might no longer have as strong an interest in intercepting weapons shipments that may pass through their country on their way to Iran’s various terror proxies,” Katz said.
Israeli diplomats officially told to leave Turkey
In Ankara, Ella Alphek, the undersecretary of the Israeli Embassy, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on Sunday and officially notified of a set of sanctions against Israel, including the expulsion of senior-level diplomats from the Israeli Embassy, Turkish officials said on Monday.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu announced on Friday a five-item sanction package against Israel after it refused to apologize for the killing of eight Turks and one Turkish-American on an aid ship that was trying to breach the Israeli blockade of Gaza on May 31, 2010. A UN panel set up to investigate the deadly takeover of the Mavi Marmara found that Israeli soldiers used “excessive and unreasonable” force against passengers, but contrary to Turkey’s argument, the report defended Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip as legal.