For those who have only sufficed in watching Erdogan lose his temper and storm off the stage at the Davos conference, I highly recommend watching Erdogan and Peres’ speeches in their entirety. Both demonstrate a high level of discourse and address important points. Perhaps, the fiasco could have been derailed if moderator David Ignatius would not have been so rigid and allowed the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, due time to answer the Israeli President, Shimon Peres. However, with Erdogan leaving the conference, immediately returning to Istanbul, he was bound to become a hero.
The question which needs to be addressed is what implications will emerge from these two very rough months in Israeli-Turkish relations. Following Erdogan’s actions during the last two months, I have a sense that even if he has become a “local hero,” throughout much of the Middle East and Iran, his behavior certainly must worry some European and American leaders. It is for this very reason that Erdogan took steps to control the damage. Following the Gaza campaign he invited the two Arab leaders who had previously been met with a cold shoulder: Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. It appears that not much came out of these meetings and that Erdogan has lost his chance at brokering a cease-fire between the Israelis and Palestinians, much less a future Middle East peace deal. This is unfortunate since he was in a unique position, with both the Israelis and Arabs placing trust in him. However, admittedly, the future does not lie solely in his hands; a new Israeli government is still in the making and it is likely that peace-deals will not top their agenda.
As for Israel, its reaction to Erdogan’s statements has been for the most part muted, with the Israeli government, doing its utmost to protect its military covenant with the Turkish Armed Forces. This is why it was surprising that it was Major-General Avi Mizrahi who voiced the most scathing criticism of Turkey in an interview with Haaretz newspaper. Reflecting the general sentiment of most Israelis, Mizrahi sent a clear message that before criticizing Israel, Turkey should first look in the mirror, alluding to Turkey’s massacre of Armenians in World War One and their struggle with their Kurdish population.* This was met with protest by the Turkish Foreign Ministry and the Turkish Armed Forces, who demanded that the Israel Defense Forces “clarify the statement.” Needless to say, three days ago the Israeli army officially renounced the views expressed by Mizrahi. It is in this light that it seems highly unlikely that Israel will condemn Turkey by officially recognizing the Armenian Genocide of 1915 as “genocide.” First and foremost, Israel cannot afford to risk its ties with Ankara; further, if done now, this simply would be “a cynical use of morality,” as was brilliantly articulated in a Haaretz editorial (see link below).
In sum, even if he has found a new level of popularity among certain factions in the Middle East, Prime Minister Erdogan will need to pull closer to the moderate pro-western Arab factions, and work to rebuild their trust. More importantly, Erdogan will also need to strengthen his ties with the US, especially since he has a lot to gain if America and Iran enter negotiations. And, as Israel “swallows its pride,” Erdogan will need to give a fair chance to the future Israeli government, regardless of its political leaning. Let us just hope that this government will be as wise as the current Israeli triumvirate, Prime Minster Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who have worked hard not to worsen the situation between the two countries. Israel and its people should understand that the cost of losing Turkey as an ally will have far greater implications than just losing billions of dollars in arms sales.
Afternote: In future entries, I will expand on the Armenian issue and Turkey, other Israel-Turkish points of interest, and US-Turkish relations. For Haaretz’s editorial entitled “A Cynical Use of Morality,” see: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1064446.html
* What Mizrahi actually stated in his interview with Haaretz is now shrouded in controversy. For an interesting take on this, see Yigal Shleifer’s blog: http://www.istanbulcalling.blogspot.com/