Turkey-Israel relations in the shadow of the Arab Spring: The need for a new paradigm

April 30, 2012, Monday/ 11:02:00/ EMRAH USTA

Unemployment, corruption, political degeneration, freedom of speech and appalling living conditions has led to a revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests occurring in the arab world, particularly North Africa and the Middle East.

Commencing with a Tunasian street vendor, Mohammed Bouzazi, setting himself on fire and causing a domino effect in the Arab Spring, preparing the ground for the destruction of the old order of the Camp David. The Arab Spring, which has contributed the countries to review their security and democratic paradigms, gives the oppurtunity to be included in the inward intervention with the power of the social media network against the dictators, while increasing the solidarity and self-confidence between the people. The Davos Summit, and the positively changing image of Turkey in the Arab world after the attack on the Mavi Marmara makes it indispensable for a new paradigm in TurkishIsraeli relations.

Search for a New Paradigm after the Palmer report

The state of Israel, on which numerous commentaries have been made, began creating an earthquake effect on the conscience of nations with its implemented policies. The frozen relations after the raid on the Mavi Marmara and the Palmer Report being leaked in the following period stretched the relations with Turkey and left deep wounds in the conscience of the international community. The basis of these deteriorated relations advancing poorly is Turkey’s demands, including compensation, official apology and breaking the siege on Gaza. Israeli state coalition, on the other hand, remains as the main cause. The attitude of different viewpoints in the coalition has been influential in the developing process. Nevertheless, the attitude of Knesset, consisting of 120 people, 12 party and the 6-party coalition inside indicate Israel’s need for a new paradigm about Turkey. The news concerning a meeting held in New York has left the Israeli government in an arduous situation thereafter the unsuccessful negotiations in Haifa common diplomacy followed by the Geneva meeting. Particularly during the last summer months, Channel 2 television commentator Amnon Abramovich, referring to the Mavi Marmara Operation dedicated to the meeting held in collaboration with The Israeli Armed Forces, the Israeli Ministry of Defence law departments and the Israeli Ministry of Justice, in this regard, public institutions have reached a joint consensus on the request for an 'apology' and declared to provide a report to the Israeli government concerning the issue. Despite these statements were widely discussed in the Israeli press, the government’s attitude on not giving a clear response had left question marks in minds. During the mid July, the Israeli Foreign Affairs spokesman Yigal Palmor stated that 'He may be inconvenient to the lawsuits filed to the army and the officers, but this is not going to be the official opinion of the army and defense ministry'. This statement eventuated in focusing on the attitude of army-military in Israel. Turkey could have taken more serious steps about the raid, seeing the discomfort of the officers subsequent to the Mavi Marmara event. Turkey, taking a different attitude towards the Israeli army, beware of lawsuits that can be filed to the Israeli soldiers, especially in the international arena, could have taken a different channel of communication regarding the apology issue. The hesitation of the players to arrive to Istanbul for the Besiktas – Tel Aviv match is a concrete example of the attitude in the Israeli Ministry of Defence and the Army. Being undesirous of taking the players, soldiers at the same time, to the football game can be considered as a substantiation of the case. The Israeli authorities, at first considering a scenario of a possible arrest, subsequently changed their attitudes and brough the players to Turkey. Considering the precise attitude of Turkey, the Israeli Defence Ministry did not permit any cracking sounds in the army, suggesting different hesitations to the soldiers, who are players at the same time, which shows the significance attached to the seriousness of the issue. After the attack on the Mavi Marmara, Turkey took action on all of the relevant UN tables in earlier than 24 hours, the UN Security Council accepting the event with a presidential statement (S/PRST/2010/9) ,which ended up condemning Israel for its actions to the death of 9 people. The UN Secretary-General decided to create a commission in accordance with this call. Joseph Ciechanover from the Israeli side and Ozden Sanberk, a former ambassador, from the Turkish side were elected by president of this commision, Palmer, and vice chairman Uribe. Another disadvantage of the Commision was not referring to the statement of the victims of the attack. While the Turkish side presenting the concrete data they have in hands, the efforts of the Israeli side, concerning to stop the functioning of the Commision, can be said to be effective until January. While there are claims about the Israeli helicopters making a ground firing during the attack, and Turkey, claming most of its deceased citizens unfortunately had been killed from the back and from a close distance, shows there are mutually unhealty information in the preparation of the report, concerning the allegations.

On the other hand, Palmer and Uribe suggested in the report that the Israeli blockade of Gaza is a legitimate. From its nature, the acceptance of this issue is not possible. There are published reports and adopted resolutions by the UN Human Rights Council, concerning the unlawful blockade of Gaza. These decisions are approved by the UN General Assembly and has become a part of international customary law. The UN Security Council clearly criticizes the blockade. The international community converge in the illegal blockade of Gaza. Common sense and conscience tells us that this blockade is illegal. In so doing, Palmer and Uribe emerging with such a controversial thesis, of course, brings to mind that they are approaching the issue with political considerations rather than legal considerations. Turkey did not become a part of this picture. Since the end of April, when Palmer and Uribe gave a draft of the report, it was recorded that Turkey would not participate in such a qualitative study any more. The report was given to the Secretary –General, only reflecting the personal opinions of Palmer and Uribe, and were only signed by the two. The representative of Israel did not sign the report, as in consequence of the clearly identified crimes committed by the Israeli soldiers. From this context, it is clear to reveal that the report does not have any binding side. To the public opinion, the common view to be provided with fleets of freedom is that there is no doubt on the crimes committed by Israel and the attack carried out could not be accepted. In this axis, the implementation of pre-conditions strictly expressed by Turkey, could prevent the isolation of Israel in public revolutions churning with Arab Spring and could lead the relations with Turkey to a better level. The policies put into practice by Turkey, churning with impact and military tutelage over years, did not make an effect on Israel and the international public opinion. On the other hand, it is inevitable to say a different image of Turkey is created in the Middle East, in face of the public movements. In the Middle East, after the Palmer Report, an alternative public diplomacy is essential to the roadmap by the UN, makes it indispensable of the applicable policies for Turkey's insistence for the actualization on the pre-conditions.

Effect of the Arab Spring in Turkey-Israel Relations

With no doubt, we can say that the Israeli-Turkish relations are having its hardest period of the history. It would not be wrong to say that the Camp David period has come to an end with the shaping of the Middle East by the Arab Spring. After the Davos Summit, the Mavi Marmara raid left a wound in the relations that has never happened in history and led Turkey, in all conscience, to be the voice of Arabs in the international community.

After the Arab-Israeli wars, the fear of Israeli taboos injected to the people by the dictators for years, were broken with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Arabs in all of the conflict areas, primarily in Palestine, approached with sympathy towards Turkey. The Arab people, waiting for the upright posture against Israel for years, seeked to determine a more stable political stance in their own internal policies, in the face of the attitude of Turkey. Beginning with public movements and elections held wtihin the period, discussions were headed towards Turkey as a model country, and falling regimes conducted anaylis on the subject. The Turkish Model discussions, 'The Turkish Perception in the Middle East 2010' sub-titled report of Mensur Akgun within TESEV, conducted a survey between 2,267 people, including Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Iran, where 66% of the people provided a postive feedback to the Turkish Model and 18% of the voters did not believe it would be possible. Israel, not being able to prevent the increasingly powerful image of Turkey in the face of this perception, having its hands tied in the Apology and Compensation issue, does not make any improvement in the relations and nor creates a zone of influence that could provide mobility. The disappearance of Egypt, after the normalization of elite-based relations brought by order of the Camp David, is particularly dangerous for Israel in the Sinai. Radical Islamic groups, in particular, make possible accedings with elections in those countries, which would mean danger for Israel in its presence in the region. In this context, Turkey freezing all ties and relations with Israel is one of the essential issues that has to be considered for the terms of the legitimacy of the Arab-Israeli relations in the region. However, in this view, this does not mean Israel-Turkey relations among Arab perspective are going to be broken off altogether. Especially the blockade on Gaza and Israel's attitude of apology are going to be effective on the Turkish-Israeli relations in the following months. To be realistic, Turkey's relations with Israel does not seem possible to be completely removed to rack. This is due to both the delicate balance on which Turkey is located and the mediating role that may arise from possible crisis centers in the Middle East, providing opportunities for Turkey to intervene in. It is possible for Turkey to maintain its relations with Israel at a certain level but, in the long term, it does not seem convenient to do it at the lowest level. Turkey, coming down to the Middle East alone is not among the possible contingencies as Islamic countries have such a stableness in the Palestenian state. Having poor relations with Israel at the lower levels, one of Turkey's ally in the Middle East seems to be Egypt. However, the perception of Egypt on Turkey, and the collapse in the guardianship system concerning democratization in the military does not make it possible. On the other hand, Turkey’s common sense that may be posed in defiance to the perception in the region and Islamic world might turn this heroic adventure into a tragedy. Although the policies and the processes pursued by Turkey, with the forming of the new order, seem to be parallel with the U.S., the road often intersects with Israel.

During this period, where the U.S. was caught unprepared for the Arab spring, Turkey’s (except for the first quarter NATO intervention in Libya) attitude turned into an appropriate standing and a direct susceptive on the people. In this context, Turkey, clarified its not going to be a guarantor nor a model to the democracies, and is crisscrossed paths with Israel once again. Turkey wants to maintain its relations with Israel at a certain distance, but also sees it appropriate to keep the equation for its own political interests. Turkey, benefiting from the lack of common stand in in the coalition of the Israeli state and determining its own position in the Arab Spring, forces Israel to a new paradigm, who wishes to evaluate its security once again with Camp David. This paradigm will be conductive to further expansion of commercial viability of economic integration between Turkish-Arab people.

The impact on 'Double-Sided Trade' between the AKP-Israeli Relations

Israel and Turkey, being potential markets for each other, are two important feet of the international trade. Justice and Development Party government, acceding two years after the 2001 financial crisis, made various reforms in the economy, freed the burden of serious debt to IMF and declared no stand-by agreements would be done. Subsequently, the change in monetary policy rates and the rapid increase in exports, gave oppurtunity to open out with Turkey's economy, thereby, both inside and outside Turkey was enriched. The foreign trade capacity with Israel in 2009 was realized as 2.5 billion dollars, by 2010 this number exceeded $ 3 billion in the first 11-month period. Another data described by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics shows there is according to a 26% growth for the year 2010. Israeli exports to Turkey increased by 22% to $ 1,309 billion, while imports increased by 29% in Turkey, which amounted to U.S. $ 1,799 billion. Iron and steel products, motor vehicles, mineral fuels and mineral oils and copper generate the most important export items of our exports, while in imports, mineral fuels, organic and inorganic chemical products and electrical machinery are the most imported items. On the other hand, certain food, construction, and human labor force work in Israel. Turkey-Israel free trade agreement, Commercial Economic Industrial Technical and Scientific Cooperation Treaty, the Treaty of Reciprocal Promotion and Protection of Investments and the Avoidance of Double Taxation Treaty, the Turkish-Israeli trade form the basis of a number of treaties. There are Turkish firms and corporations that invest in specific areas in Israel. Some of them, especially in construction of skyscrapers, power plants, water treatment plants, modern and formal housing, infrastructure facilities done by Yilmazlar Construction Group. Yilmazlar Construction Group is a Turkish company that has a serious reputation in Israel. Since 1993, especially in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Yılmazlar Construction Group, showing intensive activities in the fields of construction and infrastructure, is one of the companies that was recently awarded the Turkish-Israeli Businessmen's Council Award. Delivering investments on time, in both public sector and private sector, gained them a great confidence in Israel. Yilmazlar Construction Group Chairman Ahmet Yilmaz Reyiz was awarded Businessman of the Year in 2005 from among 400 Israeli businessmen. Other than in Israel, the company has investments in eastern Europe, and spread over a large region in Israel with 31 construction sites. Around 1000 Turkish employees are working on these construction sites, and around 700 Israeli workers are also employed. Yilmazlar Group is among the top 10 firms in Israel. In addition to the construction sector, comes Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality and Hamidiye Water Company., curing one of the most important wounds of Isael. There is no any direct investment made by Hamidiye Water Co. in Israel. However, meets the water needs in the region with dealerships by different investors. On the other hand, another major Turkish company in the region is Sabanci Holding. Sabanci Holding, in Israel, works in educational, social and cultural life, support, and in construction sector. Despite all these investments, the Mavi Marmara crisis, in a commercial sense, caused Turkey to break its relation unilaterally. After the bloody raid on Gaza aid ship, the crisis between the two countries effected the large-scale companies and the medium-sized grocery products in the region also suffered. Blue Square announced they are not going to import flour and pasta from Turkey anymore. On the other hand, Israel's Channel 10 television claimed that in last August, Turkey's loss in only chain of supermarkets is approximately 94 million dollars. Rafi Scheffer, CEO of Brand For You with the big supermarket chain Super Sol, expressed the view that the loss of Turkish goods in Israel is bad for economic relations and declared they are not going to break off relations with Turkey. On the other hand, the agricultural activities of MASHAV, constituting the foundation of Kibbutzim, is an important source of income for Israel's economy compared to other companies. The commercial ventures with Israel during the Justice and Development Party period, is of course not limited with these. The following are among the companies that invest in Israel; Carmel Carpets, who owns a 51% of Atlas Carpet that created a special carpet for Masjid al-Aqsa, Calik Group, who helped the port of Haifa, Solad Energy which aids power lines and the Zorlu Group, who signed an agreement to work in the occupied Palestenian territority with a great devotion. The Turkish pharmaceutical companies faced various challenges during the shipments of the medicine to the region, provided by TIKA after the attack on Gaza. Before the AKP era, particularly during the Erbakan period, claims of investment in the area remains up to date. The main point of delusion is due to the coalition of the Refah Yol (Welfare Road) power during that period. Tansu Ciller is thought to have a big impact in relations with Israel during the period. There has been a tension in the meeting held on 8/04/1997 between Erbakan and Danit Levy, Israel’s foreign minister, concerning Palestine and Al-Aqsa Mosque, which did not make these relationships possible for the Refah Yol. For this reason, relations with Israel in this period, have continued with high-level visits by Ciller-TSK (Turkish Armed Forces).

*Emrah Usta is a fellow at the Center for Strategic Research at Suleyman Sah University in Istanbul.