The Possibilities, and Limits, of Israeli Reconciliation with Turkey

Last week, Benjamin Netanyahu had planned to meet with his Greek and Cypriot counterparts, and then travel to Ankara for a summit with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but the trip was postponed due to the Israeli prime minister’s recent health problems. Both visits, however, are expected to be rescheduled. Eran Lerman assesses the possibilities of a further thaw in Israel and Turkey’s vexed relations, and how reconciliation with Ankara can be balanced with Jerusalem’s now-solid ties with Athens and Nicosia:

The recurrent hints and pressures Erdogan and his government used to persuade Israel to export the gas from its Mediterranean fields via Turkey (helping it establish itself as an energy hub) are ultimately pointless. Such a project would immediately run into conflict over the use of the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone [in the eastern Mediterranean]. Israel has no wish to become tethered to a mercurial leadership in Turkey which still harbors hostile sentiments and might turn radically against Israel at times of crisis, particularly a confrontation with Hamas. Moreover . . . there are viable alternatives.

What, then, should be on the agenda during Netanyahu’s visit to Ankara if he rejects (no matter how politely) Erdogan’s push for a pipeline to Turkey? There are, as things stand, significant other fields over which the two countries—despite the bitter differences of the recent past—can find common ground. . . . The scope of trade—distinctly skewed in Turkey’s favor—keeps growing, and may do so even more (albeit marginally) if the present Israeli government proceeds with its plans to lower the cost of living by allowing agricultural imports.

At the strategic level, Israel shares with Turkey—as demonstrated in mid-July by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s visit to Baku—a keen interest in Azerbaijan’s ability to defend itself during growing tensions with Tehran. A traditional ally of Turkey (and speaking a Turkic language), Azerbaijan has enjoyed a strong security relationship with Israel over the years and recently opened an embassy after years of hesitation and delay. Turkey may take an ambivalent position toward Iran, but in Syria—as well as over the future of Azerbaijan—Ankara and Tehran are on the opposite sides of the conflict.

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More about: Cyprus, Greece, Israel diplomacy, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey

Iran’s Program of Subversion and Propaganda in the Caucasus

In the past week, Iranian proxies and clients have attacked Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran also has substantial military assets in Iraq and Syria—countries over which it exercises a great deal of control—which could launch significant attacks on Israel as well. Tehran, in addition, has stretched its influence northward into both Azerbaijan and Armenia. While Israel has diplomatic relations with both of these rival nations, its relationship with Baku is closer and involves significant military and security collaboration, some of which is directed against Iran. Alexander Grinberg writes:

Iran exploits ethnic and religious factors in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to further its interests. . . . In Armenia, Iran attempts to tarnish the legitimacy of the elected government and exploit the church’s nationalist position and tensions between it and the Armenian government; in Azerbaijan, the Iranian regime employs outright terrorist methods similar to its support for terrorist proxies in the Middle East [in order to] undermine the regime.

Huseyniyyun (Islamic Resistance Movement of Azerbaijan) is a terrorist militia made up of ethnic Azeris and designed to fight against Azerbaijan. It was established by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps . . . in the image of other pro-Iranian militias. . . . Currently, Huseyniyyun is not actively engaged in terrorist activities as Iran prefers more subtle methods of subversion. The organization serves as a mouthpiece of the Iranian regime on various Telegram channels in the Azeri language. The main impact of Huseyniyyun is that it helps spread Iranian propaganda in Azerbaijan.

The Iranian regime fears the end of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan because this would limit its options for disruption. Iranian outlets are replete with anti-Semitic paranoia against Azerbaijan, accusing the country of awarding its territory to Zionists and NATO. . . . Likewise, it is noteworthy that Armenian nationalists reiterate hideous anti-Semitic tropes that are identical to those spouted by the Iranians and Palestinians. Moreover, leading Iranian analysts have no qualms about openly praising [sympathetic] Armenian clergy together with terrorist Iran-funded Azeri movements for working toward Iranian goals.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Azerbaijan, Iran, Israeli Security