Turkey's relations with Israel are increasingly resembling its relations with Greece; a war is unlikely, but relations will be strained and confrontational, Dr. Nimrod Goren of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem told "Globes". His remarks follow reports in the Turkish media that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wants to visit Egypt next week and sign a new military agreement it, and that he also wants to visit Gaza, breaking the Israeli blockade.
"Erdoğan spoke about a Gaza visit back in August," says Goren. "As for the visit to Egypt, there's a very good chance that it will happen; it fits in with regional developments. A visit to Gaza after the visit to Egypt is geographically suitable, and Egypt has already said that it will open the Rafiah border crossing."
"Globes": If Erdoğan tries to break the Gaza blockade, what can Israel do?
Goren: "Use diplomatic channels, especially via the US, to neutralize this mine as much as possible. The Americans have a strong interest for Israeli-Turkish relations not to completely explode."
What are the chances of a general war, as the IDF Home Front commander warned about last week?
"A general war won't come from Turkey. An Israeli-Turkish confrontation will be like the Greek-Turkish confrontation. It will be an almost confrontation. From time to time, Turkish Navy ships will sail in the eastern Mediterranean, but there is no interest in a real war."
Israeli-Turkish relations sank to a new low yesterday, when Erdoğan severed commercial relations. A few hours later, Turkey clarified the statement to say that it only applied to military ties, not business ties between private companies. At the same time, Turkey threatened Cyprus with military action if it allowed Noble Energy Inc. (NYSE: NBL) to go ahead with plans to drill an exploratory well at its Block 12 concession by the end of this month. The concession lies over the border between Israel and Cyprus's maritime exclusive economic zones, across from Leviathan. Delek Group Ltd. (TASE: DLEKG), Noble Energy's partner in Leviathan, has an option to acquire 30% of Block 12.
How serious is the threat to Cyprus - a member of the EU?
"Cyprus is also due to assume the EU presidency next year, and Turkey has said that it won't act against the EU then. As far as Erdoğan is concerned, he is defending Turkey's national interests, and the Cypriot issue has always been in Turkey's soul. Erdoğan's rhetoric has always been aggressive. He also frequently denounced the EU, but Turkey hasn’t gone over to the other side. It hasn’t abandoned its relations with the West in favor of the East, as is seen in Erdoğan's relations with US President Barack Obama. Erdoğan wants to show that he isn't in America or Europe's pocket and that Turkey has an independent foreign policy."
Should Israel open a channel to the Kurds or tighten relations with Greece?
"The channel with Greece has already been opened, and strategic agreements have been signed. As for the Kurds, while there has been economic development in Kurdistan, that is due to Turkish companies investing there. I don’t know the content of Israel's relations with the Kurds, but a channel with the Kurds would only exacerbate the confrontation with Turkey and mark it as a hostile country."
In your opinion, should Israel apologize for the Mavi Marmara incident?
"Israel should have gone for the formula proposed in the talks between the Turkish and Israeli teams. According to reports, the formula would contain an Israeli apology for the operational errors during the takeover of the Mavi Marmara, improved Turkish-Israeli relations, and a Turkish commitment to block legal claims against IDF troops. The Americans urged this. According to reports, Erdoğan was prepared to agree to this, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ultimately rejected it out of coalition considerations. Minister of Defense Ehud Barak and Minister Dan Meridor supported the formula, but Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman opposed it."
But maybe there has been a change in Turkish policy, and any assailing of Israel would have been based on some other incident, even if there had never been a flotilla to Gaza.
"That's true. Erdoğan's conduct did not begin with the Gaza flotilla. But the issue of the flotilla was so central to the Turkish public for whom it was a huge blow to their honor. They want Israel to apologize because this was the first time that Turkish citizens were killed by a friendly country. The demand for an apology is patriotic sentiment."
What about the lack of criticism against Erdoğan and the non-intervention by the Turkish Army?
"The Turkish Army brass resigned last month - the chief of staff and the military chiefs. Turkey is subjecting the army to civilian leadership. The opposition criticizes Erdoğan, but that isn't necessarily because of love for Israel. Erdoğan grip on the political establishment is strong."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on September 7, 2011
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2011