Turkish block on Israel, EU at NATO summit raises eyebrows in West

May 06, 2012, Sunday/ 13:07:00

Turkey’s decision to block the European Union and Israel from participating in the upcoming NATO Chicago Summit, although international experts call it symbolic, is likely to raise eyebrows in the West.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said during a NATO meeting in Brussels in late April that Ankara would block EU and Israeli participation at an upcoming NATO summit in Chicago on May 20-21 unless the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is also allowed to be present, arguing that the OIC’s commitment had exceeded the EU contribution in the Afghanistan peace mission.

    Due to Turkey’s objections, the EU, represented by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, as well as Israel will be unable to participate in the NATO summit, a situation that has irritated Western countries.

 EU member countries, including France, argued that the EU should be represented because of the EU’s commitments in NATO peace missions, but Turkey maintains that member states only should participate in the summit.

Emiliano Alessandri, a transatlantic fellow and an expert in Turkish foreign policy and transatlantic relations at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, D.C., said in an interview with Sunday’s Zaman that Ankara’s vetoes are unfortunate as the controversies involving Turkey may end up undermining the multilateral efforts that the Atlantic alliance is promoting through dialogue and partnerships with external actors. According to Alessandri, if the EU and Israel do not attend the NATO Chicago Summit because of Turkey’s opposition, the damage will mainly be symbolic, adding, “However, symbolism does have a meaning at international summits, and Turkey’s image in the West will suffer from it.”

Calling Turkey a very valuable ally within NATO, Alessandri thinks that despite Turkey’s vetoes, both the US and European countries have no intention of letting Turkey distance itself from NATO. Instead, they have been hoping to further strengthen Turkey’s ties to the alliance in order to prevent a scenario of Ankara’s gradual de-alignment from the West. The analyst considers Turkey committed to its strategic alignment with NATO. “Turkey has accepted to contribute to the new NATO missile defense shield even if this has already caused tensions with neighbor Iran. Turkey is also cooperating closely with Western allies in the Syrian crisis and other troubled spots in the region,” said Alessandri, emphasizing that in light of this cooperation Washington has refrained from taking the Turkey-Israel break as a justification to downgrade relations with Ankara.

According to Alessandri, Turkish-US relations are currently experiencing a “golden age” compared to just a few years ago. “One of the reasons why Turkey may feel it will get away with vetoes and other uncooperative behavior is that Ankara knows how much the West needs Turkey right now,” says Alessandri, adding, “Some Western leaders will criticize Turkey’s behavior, but no one can afford losing Turkey.”

Marina Ottaway, a senior associate of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace based in Washington, D.C., echoing Alessandri, said that blocking EU participation at the NATO summit unless the OIC is represented is largely symbolic, since most EU members are also NATO members. “It is more a question of principle for Turkey to insist that participation not be slanted even more in favor of Europe,” said Ottaway, talking to Sunday’s Zaman.

Concerning the participation of Israel, Ottaway thinks Turkey’s stand in relation to the question of Iran has to be looked at. “Israel’s participation would imply a commonality of views between Israel and NATO on that issue. While Turkey is taking an increasingly strong position on Iran, it obviously does not want to be identified with Israel’s intransigence, nor does it want that view to influence NATO,” said Ottaway.

Talking to Sunday’s Zaman Sedat Laçiner, a Turkish academic and specialist on the Middle East who also accompanied Davutoğlu at the NATO’s Brussels meeting, says that Turkey’s blocking of Israeli participation at the NATO Chicago Summit serves to block Israel’s latest NATO partnership bid, adding that Turkey’s target as a NATO member is to prevent its foe in the region from cooperating with the transatlantic alliance. Trying to find parallels between Israel and Iran in terms of their affiliation to Turkey and the US, Laçiner says that Israel’s participation at the NATO summit is impossible in the same way that Iran’s participation at the NATO summit also is unimaginable.

According to Laçiner, Turkey cannot consider Israel, a country that has killed its citizens in international waters, a partner country in NATO, the organization that is committed to ensuring international security. “Israel, a country that has killed Turkish citizens and one American citizen, first needs to acknowledge the crime against humanity it committed in the Mavi Marmara ship raid, offer an apology to Turkey over its the raid, pay compensation to the families of the raid victims and normalize bilateral relations with Turkey,” said Laçiner adding, “Only after that can Israel have the chance to cooperate with NATO allies.”

Turkey has been publically pressing Israel to issue an official apology over its botched raid of the MV Mavi Marmara during its attempt to carry humanitarian aid through Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. Israeli naval commandos stormed the ship, killing eight Turkish civilians and a US citizen. Israel has refused to issue an apology, expressing only regret, claiming that its soldiers acted in self-defense.

Mehmet Yeğin, an expert on international security at the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), said that Turkey, as a committed member of NATO, has shared the burdens of NATO membership whenever necessary and should be able to use the card of NATO membership for its interests as well. “Turkey accepted the NATO missile shield despite its position in the Middle East and declared that it would take necessary steps as a NATO member. So why should Turkey not use its veto power?” questions Yegin adding, “Greek Cyprus will also be able to enjoy their veto power against Turkey during its EU’s presidency, so why not Turkey?” Calling EU-Turkish relations not exactly rosy, Yeğin says, “They may totally freeze under Greek Cyprus’s leadership,” adding that he does not consider that Turkey’s EU block will further exacerbate ties.

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