Who doesn’t support Israel-Turkey rapprochement?

Those who read my posts know that I write extensively (if not exclusively) about the benefits of Israel-Turkey rapprochement, as well as how a deal would benefit European and American strategic interests. In particular, the lack of cohesion between Washington’s two most critical allies in the Middle East has been particularly damaging for the Obama administration. For this reason, President Obama compelled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March 2013 to pick up the phone and apologize for Israel’s actions in the Gaza flotilla incident to his then-Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

There are those, however, who are not supportive of reconciliation (and no, I am not referring to outspoken Israeli politician Avigdor Liberman). The first is Egypt, who in early January expressed concerns that a deal would further embolden Hamas and strengthen Turkey’s position in the Gaza Strip. Since the rise of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in 2013, security cooperation with Egypt has reached unprecedented heights, as both Israel and Egypt share a strong interest in eliminating Islamist elements in the Sinai Peninsula and keeping Hamas in check in the Gaza Strip. Sisi has his own outstanding grievance with Erdogan, who labeled his ouster of Mohamed Morsi a “military coup” and subsequently downgraded diplomatic ties. Just as Cairo sees the AKP as an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ankara sees Sisi as a reincarnation of the old military-dictatorships of the 20th century Middle East.

On February 18, two additional regional actors – Greece and Russia – expressed their thoughts about an Israel-Turkey warming.

Such opinions should not come as a surprise to decision makers in Jerusalem. Still, it marks a noteworthy moment of counter diplomacy as talks between Israel and Turkey reportedly reach their conclusion.

Speaking before an audience at Bar Ilan University, Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos spoke about Turkey’s destabilizing role in the Eastern Mediterranean (see below tweet by Channel 2 diplomatic correspondent Arad Nir):

Greece and Turkey share a deep distrust for one another, so an errant comment of this kind by a public official is not unheard of. Yet it is reasonable to assume that Kammenos’ statements are related to the recent tripartite agreement that Greece signed with Israel and Cyprus, which has the potential to one day lead to the construction of a natural gas pipeline that would deliver Israeli natural gas via Greece to Europe (a route, by the way, I believe in unlikely to ever be seriously considered). While Israeli and Greek officials went out of their way to state that the tripartite agreement was not a threat to Turkey, this does not mean that Israel-Turkey rapprochement – complete with its own pipeline aspirations – is not perceived as a challenge to the promise of tripartite agreement.

The most important voice, and the one I argue Israel can under no circumstances ignore, is Russia. As reported by Ha’aretz correspondent Barak Ravid, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Israeli Foreign Ministry director general Dore Gold that Moscow is “dissatisfied” with progress in reconciliation talks. Russia and Turkey have been engaged in their own dispute since the downing of a Russian Su-24 jet along the Turkish-Syrian in November 2015. It is widely believed that fears of Russian reprisal prompted Erdogan to adopt a more Western-friendly foreign policy in recent months, which includes the renewed diplomatic efforts vis-a-vis Israel. Turkey, dependent on approximately 50% of its natural gas from Russia, is eager to diversify its supply.

With Egypt, Greece, and Russia offering their unsolicited advise about rapprochement Turkey, Netanyahu now has more angles to consider. The benefits of reaching a reconciliation deal with Ankara are well known, but the diplomatic risks are difficult to measure, particularly if Russia’s rumblings are to be taken seriously. To make matters more complicated, it is unclear that Netanyahu has the full support of his cabinet. This week, at the annual Munich Security Conference, Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon openly criticized Turkish support for Hamas (video below):

All of these objections, at minimum, will give Netanyahu – who traditionally has been risk averse and hesitant to make deliberate diplomatic measures – another reason to pause and hope that the geopolitical game unfolding in the region sorts itself out and presents him with an easy decision.

Considering that this has never happened before, it wouldn’t surprise me if Netanyahu weighed his options until U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel on March 7.

Posted on by Gabriel in Israel, Turkey