As the crisis in Syria drags on and Turkey's security concerns become more pronounced, there have been suggestions from various quarters that Ankara might want to shore up its own interests by mending its strained ties with Israel, which have been frozen since the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident.
The latest such suggestion appears to have come from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who reportedly pressed Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a Berlin meeting the other day about patching things up with Israel. As Today's Zaman columnist Abdullah Bozkurt reports today, Erdogan told reporters after his meeting with Merkel that he told the German leaders that, along with an apology for the incident and compensation to the families of the nine Turks killed, Ankara also expects Israel lift its blockade on Gaza if it wants to restore relations with Turkey. In other words, don't expect much to happen. From Bozkurt's column:
Later on, when he shared his recollection of the meeting with reporters, Erdoğan said: “I told her that all three conditions must be fulfilled. I said to her in very clear terms that we are not open to options like agreeing to a deal on an apology and compensation while discarding the lifting of embargo condition.”
Merkel's intervention on behalf of Israel is not the only one. The issue has been brought up by a long list of other leaders during their meetings with Erdoğan in the past. It included Russian President Vladimir Putin, US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and many other European leaders. Erdoğan did not budge an inch. When you set the policy at the highest level of government with these sharp edges, then there is not much room to maneuver diplomatically. The working relationship currently conducted at the undersecretary level between the two countries' foreign ministries does not mean much....
....If one thing is clear from the prime minister's remarks, a simple apology and compensation will not heal the rift between the two countries. The suggestion that the third condition was added by the Turkish government simply to raise the stakes for Israel in a bid to force Tel Aviv to compromise on the other two is no longer a valid argument. For all intents and purposes, Erdoğan enjoys using Israel as punching bag to boost his popularity on the Arab street and to energize core party loyalists and activists. He will not give up on the bashing of Israel as long as all three conditions remain unfulfilled by the Jewish state.
Erdogan's words in Germany should not be surprising. Despite suggestions from western allies that it heal the rift with Israel, Ankara has so far remained resistant to the idea. For example, a recent suggestion by Pinhas Avivi, a former Israeli ambassador to Turkey and now a senior official in Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that the two countries sit down to talk about their differences was swiftly dismissed by Ankara. "There is no change in Turkey's stance towards Israel," a top Turkish diplomat said in response to Avivi's suggestion. Meanwhile, according to Ha'aretz, Turkish and Israeli officials have been engaging in tit-for-tap diplomatic snubs, with Ankara ordering its missions around the world not to invite Israeli diplomats to official celebrations and Jerusalem ordering its missions to give Turkish diplomats the same treatment.
For now, it looks like the only direction Turkey-Israel relations can head in is down. As bad as those relations are, upcoming events could make them even worse. As Today's Zaman reports, Erdogan also told reporters during his trip to Germany that he is considering making a trip in the near future to Gaza, something that if it were to happen would certainly add to the distance between Turkey and Israel and reinforce Israeli perceptions that Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government are driven by Islamist ideology. More worryingly, on November 6 an Istanbul court will convene a trial in which several Israeli military commanders are being judged in absentia in connection with the Mavi Marmara affair. As Today's Zaman's Bozkurt points out, the trial's most likely outcome is a further worsening of Turkey-Israel relations:
While the trial serves as an opportunity for the 490 people listed in the indictment as direct and indirect victims of the raid to voice their grievances, it will negatively impact the perception of Israel in Turkish public opinion. As tales of horrific encounters in a deadly assault on a Turkish ship make it into headlines in Turkey, the position of the government against Israel will be further hardened under the spotlight.