Israel Must Accept That Turkey Is Neither Friend nor Foe

November 22, 2021 | Eyal Zisser
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After being imprisoned for eight days on highly dubious espionage charges while vacationing in Turkey, an Israeli husband and wife were allowed to return home. The fact that the vacationing couple was detained in the first place does not signal the end of the once-friendly relations between Ankara and Jerusalem—which have been deteriorating for nearly two decades—nor does their release portend a restoration of those relations, argues Eyal Zisser. Rather, he writes, the incident supports a realistic appraisal of ties between the Jewish state and its former ally:

The simple truth is that these ties have a glass ceiling that we cannot and should not attempt to break. Below it exists a reasonable and tolerable relationship, better even than those that Israel maintains with other countries in the region. After all, when was the last time Israeli tourists visited Cairo or Amman en masse? We should protect and advance this relationship, but we should not expect to achieve much more than we currently have.

[E]ver since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power in the early 2000s, bilateral ties have been in an ongoing state of crisis. They have been held hostage to the ups and downs of Israel-Palestinian relations. Each incident that takes place in Judea and Samaria, Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip leads him to excoriate Israel, sometimes to the point of anti-Semitism, and even to go so far as to harm [Israel’s] diplomatic representatives in Ankara and Istanbul.

At the same time, Erdogan has taken care not to cross the line by avoiding harming economic ties, which have in fact continued to develop. This is in fact a pattern in his treatment of other countries, chief among them the U.S. and European states. Yet this policy has a price. Turkey’s economy is collapsing; its relationship with the U.S. is in a state of ongoing crisis; and it has been left without any friends in the region. This is why Erdogan is trying to repair the damage.

Nevertheless, Erdogan remains an unpredictable politician. . . . We just need to be cognizant of the limits of this relationship.

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