Named after the three cities I live in, this blog will focus on Israeli, Palestinian, and Turkish politics and social issues. In addition, I will periodically cover other topics related to the Middle East.
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Turkey's desperate need to reconcile with Israel (following Istiklal Blast)*
Haaretz: “The ruling AKP party, used to sanctioning extreme anti-Israeli
rhetoric and even blatant anti-Semitism, has condemned the anti-Israeli hate
tweet of a party activist after the Istanbul bombing. It's is a sign of how
actively Turkey is now courting Israel.”
Louis Fishman March 20, 2016
Saturday morning, a suicide
bomber blew himself up on
Istiklal, Istanbul’s main pedestrian avenue. An Israeli group on a culinary
tour of the city took the main force of the explosion, in what appears to be a
random act directed at tourists, and not specifically at them as Israelis.
Three Israeli citizens were killed and eleven injured, in addition to an
Iranian who succumbed to fatal injuries; a Turkish family, including a two year
old toddler and her father, were hospitalized in serious condition.
This is the fourth bomb to go off in Turkey in the last two
months which cumulatively have killed over 80 people. Two bombs have hit
tourists in Istanbul, with those attacks believed linked to ISIS sympathizers,
and the two recent Ankara bombings directed at Turkish citizens were claimed by TAK,
a militant Kurdish organization, an offshoot of the outlawed PKK, whose most
recent bombing happened just a week ago killing 37 people. Last October,
an ISIS sympathizer killed over a hundred people at a leftist pro-peace rally
in Ankara as well.
Saturday's bombing sadly did not come as a surprise: The
American and German embassies had issued warnings, with many Turkish citizens
themselves avoiding Istiklal for fear of an imminent attack.
Immediately following the attack on Saturday, Turkey’s social
media was saturated with misinformation, including claims that another bomb had
been detonated in Istanbul’s upscale neighborhood of Nisantasi. Very soon
rumors began to emerge that among the injured was a group of Israelis. At
first, this seemed far-fetched, since even before the 2010 Gaza Flotilla
incident and the breakdown of Israeli-Turkish relations, Israeli groups and
tourists are rarely seen in Istanbul outside of its airport, which serves as a
major hub onwards for Israeli travelers.
Upon hearing that Israelis were among the injured, Irem Aktas,
member of AKP who headed one of Istanbul’s AKP women’s branches
and a declared Erdogan fan, tweeted that she wished death upon the Israelis
injured. The hateful tweet took off like wildfire, retweeted by Turks disgusted
by her words, and migrating quickly to the international press; not
surprisingly, her sentiments received some praise as well.
This move by the AKP comes at a time when Turkey and Israel have
been putting serious efforts at renewing ties. Last January, Turkish President
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who until recently never missed an opportunity to
publically disgrace Israel, shocked many when he stated that
it is not just Israel that needs Turkey but “we also need Israel.” In fact,
during the last few months Turkey has made numerous statements that makes it
appears almost as if it is courting Israel.
Turkey’s reconciliation with Israel has more to do with
geopolitics than a new found love for the Jewish state. Since relations between
the two countries went sour, Turkey has lost most of its regional clout. This
is true in Syria where it has lost a great deal of its influence and, following
the downing of the Russian jet last October, a new need for natural gas arose,
which Israel is able to answer. Lastly, Turkey’s rapprochement with Saudi
Arabia—an unspoken ally of Israel—also came at a cost, while its relations with
Egypt are still strained.
Domestically, as a diversion from clamping down on opposition
voices and the seizing of media outlets, cutting a deal with Israel would give
it much needed credit with Washington. This is of the utmost importance now
also due to Turkey’s renewed war in its own backyard, as it takes on the PKK in
the southeastern Kurdish populated regions, which has led to flagrant human
rights violations and death of innocent civilians (with hundreds of dead among
Turkey's own forces).
Last night, during a press briefing related to the bombing,
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was asked about the talks between Turkey and
Israel. He took a very diplomatic stance, stating “We
have encountered some delays in this process, not from a lack of trying but due
to fundamental issues,” and that the goal was to reach “normalization.”
Netanyahu also commented on Aktas’ tweet, calling it “outrageous,” and stating
that he received
assurances that action would be taken against her.
Even if the major stumbling block standing in the way of
Turkish-Israeli reconciliation seems to relate to the Gaza blockade, it could
also be a key to the solution. Israel isn't budging on Turkey’s demand to lift
the blockade, but it might be leaning towards a partial lifting to satisfy
Turkish demands, and in return Israel could plausibly demand guarantees that
the Turkish government stop using Israel as its public punching bag and take
steps at combatting anti-Semitism within its ranks. In that sense, perhaps
Saturday’s bombing could be a turning point in relations.
An agreement would also allow Turkey, if it really was
interested, to invest in the West Bank and Gaza, and to begin to take real
steps at making Palestinian lives better in place of the usual empty rhetoric.
Nevertheless, the bombing once again highlights the fact that it is actually
Turkey that now is in desperate need of renewed relations with Israel, while
Israel has time on its side, knowing that in the current situation in Turkey,
relations between the two countries only can remain limited in scope, or at
least until some stability returns.
For now, unfortunately, any hope for Israeli tourism to Turkey
as a step towards normalization will have to be put on hold as well, not least
due to the Israel foreign ministry's travel advisory
warning against travel to Turkey. Sadly, the Israeli group who
set out Saturday to discover Turkish culture and food became a part of a
dangerous sequence of violence in a country over its head in grave issues that
leaves no one untouched.
This article appeared in Haaretz on March 20, 2016, click here for link