Analysis‎ > ‎29.09.2011‎ > ‎


Artashes Ter-Harutyunyan

On September 9 the Israeli mass media reported that a working group headed by Avigdor Libermann, the vice-prime-minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, was established; it will have to elaborate a package of proposals on what measures a Jewish state and Jewish lobbyist organizations in different countries can take against Turkey.

Israeli media also issued some proposals which are circulated in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

1) Tel Aviv renders political and, it is not excluded, military and technical assistance to the Kurdish Worker’s Party struggling for the independence of the regions of Turkey inhabited by Kurds1.
2) Initiating anti-Turkish campaign in the US Congress, including passing bills of anti-Turkish orientation.
3) Support to the Armenian Issue (including meeting of Leibermann with the Armenian lobbyist organizations in the US).
4) Initiating anti-Turkish campaign by the Israeli ambassadors in different countries.

Though during the whole course of the Israeli-Turkish relations Tel Aviv has never taken such a tough stance in regard to Ankara, and in this aspect the aforementioned initiatives are really unprecedented (even if they remain only as simply listed items, the leakage of which was arranged by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), but, at the same time, it is remarkable that the initiative was proposed not by some political power or figure but by state body. On the one hand its purpose is to show to Ankara the seriousness of Tel Aviv’s intentions, but on the other hand it can come to prove unprecedented deterioration of relations between Israel and Turkey which, however, begin to transform into confrontation.
Turkey’s incereases pressure on Israel

In Israel they decided to put forward those initiatives after the statement of the prime-minister of Turkey Erdogan made on September 8 in his interview to Al Jazeera; it stated that next time Turkish navy would guide the ships with the humanitarian aid to Gaza sector.

It is known that in May 2010 on the initiative of “Human rights, Freedom and Humanitarian Aid Founadtion” (Insan Hak ve Huerriyetleri ve Insani Yardim Vakfi), which is closely connected with the Justice and Development Party headed by Erdogan, a group of ships (Freedom Flotilla) moved to Gaza sector in order to break the Israeli blockade and deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza which had been under the rule of “Hamas” since 2007. It is also known that on May 31, 2010 Israeli special mission units stopped the ships and in consequence of conflict on Turkish Mavi Marmara ship 9 Turk activists from the Foundation were killed. Over the year Turkey demanded from Tel Aviv to apologize and to pay compensation to the families of the deceased people but it was rejected by the Israeli side.

In order to settle this conflict special commission headed by the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of New Zealand Jeffrey Palmer was formed under the auspices of the UN; it had to examine the case and give a verdict to what extent Israel’s actions were legitimate in the aspect of international law. According to some information the report of the commission was ready last autumn but mainly because of the Turkish side its publication has been postponed. Soon it became clear why.

On September 1, most probably on the initiative of the Israeli side, The New York Times issued Palmer’s report: though Israel’s methods in the attack on the flotilla were “excessive”, and in consequence 9 people were killed but it did have the legal right to impose a naval blockade against Gaza.

Such a conclusion was a blow on the initiative connected with “Freedom flotilla”. In Ankara they knew the stance of Tel Aviv on this issue just before the flotilla started, but, nevertheless, the Turkish side took a decision to take this step. Its purpose was to gain authority and influence in the Muslim world and Middle East. Therefore, such a report of the Palmer commission does not correspond to Turkey’s reckoning; Israel managed not to allow “Freedom flotilla” to access Gaza sector, retain its authority in its year-long struggle against Ankara and, which is the most important, it got an opportunity to do the same way. In consequence all this have resulted not in gaining authority by Turkey, but quite the opposite.

The publication by The New York Times was followed by unprecedentedly sharp response of the Turkish side. On demand of Ankara Israeli ambassador and all the Israeli high-ranking diplomats left Turkey, the level of the diplomatic relations was reduced to the second secretary level, all the Turkish-Israeli military technical agreements were suspended; it was stated that Ankara would raise the question of Gaza sector blockade in International Court and, finally, they would take out a process against the prime-minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Defence Ehud Barak, Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, Navy Commander Zvi Merom and some other officers in international judicial instances on a charge of killing those nine activists.

However, all the aforementioned were not taken in Tel Aviv as simply a reaction of Turkish side. The aforementioned and, which is the most important, Erdogan’s statement that next time Turkish navy would accompany ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza sector were taken in Tel Aviv as a new program of exerting pressure on Israel by Turkey which has not been a continuation of the “Freedom flotilla” initiative but its purpose was to substitute it. On the other hand it became clear that in Ankara a decision was taken to increase pressure on Tel Aviv and that Turkish-Israeli crisis is gradually transforming from contradictions into confrontation.

The following facts come to prove this conclusion.

On September 6 Turkey’s Minister for EU Affairs Egemen Bagis stated that Ankara was worried by the projects of the Republic of Cyprus to begin exploration and drilling near the shore of the South Cyprus where gas pool had been found.

Cyprus has concluded agreements with Israel, Egypt and Lebanon on creation of a free economic area. According to the agreements those countries, in fact, divided the part of the Mediterranean adjoining their shores and started exploration of gas and oil. As it was mentioned, there was big gas reservoir found in the Cyprus’s area and the government of that country signed a contract with the American Noble Energy Company on gas production. They plan to start drilling at the beginning of October.

Against this background, the official Ankara stated that the borders of those free economic areas was a point at issue so the parties had no right to begin any production there. As for Cyprus, the Minister of Energy Taner Yildiz stated that they must not exercise Ankara’s patience and Egemen Bagil openly said that in case if Cyprus started works, Ankara would send its naval forces there, as it had done in 2008.

In his aforementioned interview to Al Jazeera on September 8, the Turkish prime-minister also stated that one-sided production of the energy carriers in the Eastern Mediterranean by Israel should be stopped. Though Erdogan did not go into details about the measures to be taken but, alongside with the statement about sending Turkish navy to Gaza sector, those words had to show Ankara’s intention rather to set its influence in this part of the Mediterranean than to have its share in the oil and gas production in the Eastern part of the Sea. If Turkey manages to implement those plans, it will become an additional leverage for exerting pressure on Tel Aviv, as Israeli naval forces will have a serious competitor in that area and it may restrict the possibilities of the Israelis.

Fast-paced military and political cooperation between Egypt and Turkey after the fall of Mubarak’s regime comes to prove the fact that those plans by Ankara can come into life. On September 7 it was stated that Egyptian navy would participate in the manoeuvres of the Turkish navy in the Eastern Mediterranean. On September 12 Erdogan’s visit to Egypt, Tunisia and Libya started and in Cairo the parties came to some strategic agreements in political, military and economic areas.

It is remarkable that in Israel stirring up of the Turkish and Egyptian military-political and economic connections is explained by the fact that Turkey is looking for a new leverages to exert pressure on them. It is known that especially in recent two months the situation on the Israeli-Egyptian border has become strained; there were victims from both sides; Israel was forced to send additional troops and drones on the border. The 1978 Camp David agreement restricted the troops and security forces of Cairo on the Sinai Peninsula, and after the downfall of Mubarak the situation aggravated as the local Islamist began acting more freely.

According to many Israeli security experts the growth of threat in the Egyptian direction can be conditioned by covert actions of Ankara and it is directed to create new problems for the Jewish state. In Tel Aviv they consider it remarkable that 2 days before the visit of Erdogan to Cairo, thousands of Islamists, headed by the “Muslim brothers”, ceased and burnt Israeli embassy. It is even more remarkable that according to Israeli sources, Egyptian special services knew about that assault but, in fact, they did not stop them.

Speaking about the military forces in deepening Turkish-Israeli contradictions shows that Ankara is successively increasing tension in their relations with Tel Aviv.

On the other hand, due to the fact that increasing its authority in Muslim world and especially in the Middle East has become primary goal of Turkey’s foreign policy and in this aspect Ankara will continue using Israeli factor, it is more probable that in the near future Ankara will continue such policy in regard to Israel.

So, the key issues are what kind of manifestation the increasing tension between these two countries will have and consequences it will have for other countries of the region either.

1 It is for the first time in the history of contradictions and strained relations between Israel and Turkey, that Tel Aviv spoke about rendering assistance, including military technical one, to the KWP. According to Israeli mass media Tel Aviv considers such measures as a response to the developing connections between Ankara and “Hamas”, which is ruling in Gaza. According to some publications meetings between Libermann and KWP leaders are planned. If all this come true, Israel will become the first state after the USSR which openly assists to the Kurds in Turkey and this, in its turn will mean de facto recognition of the KWP and, which is the most important, the recognition of the main idea of the party (independence of the regions of Turkey populated by Kurds).

Source: Analytical Agency, 29 September 2011