Shalit deal could repair Israel-Turkey relations

Instead of offering aid to earthquake survivors, Israel needs to leverage the Shalit deal in order to improve relations.

Immediately after news of the eastern Turkey earthquake reached Israel, Ankara was besieged with offers of assistance from official Israeli organizations, among them the Prime Minister's Office, as well as the Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs. President Shimon Peres hastened to call his Turkish counterpart, President Abdullah Gul, and the IDF was ordered to prepare for immediate departure.

So far, Turkey has declined all offers of assistance, and not necessarily because it does not need it. Normally, Turkey's response would have been completely different. Someone in Ankara believes that Israel should not be allowed to use the Turkish catastrophe as political leverage. Some of the Israeli organizations that offered Turkey assistance refrained from making this public knowledge, since they thought Turkey might respond in this fashion.

The Israeli consensus to extend a helping hand to Turkey comes from the understanding that the time has come to thaw the frozen relations between the two countries. It could be that this opportunity already exists, but that Israel is not rushing to take advantage of it. I am referring to the political leverage against Turkey of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange.

Everyone loves the Shalit deal

Turkey loves the Shalit deal. It even offered its assistance with the deal over the past few months, despite the fact that they had not yet received an apology for the Mavi Marmara affair. Israel did not reject the surprising Turkish offer out of hand. Moreover, Turkey agreed to take in 11 of the most dangerous prisoners (including convicted murderer of Ophir Rachum, Muna Amin) thereby expediting the deal. Immediately following the official announcement of the prisoner exchange, Jerusalem relayed an official acknowledgement of thanks.

Beyond its humanitarian aspect, the Shalit deal is also significant for regional politics. The deal that was brokered between Israel and Hamas (even if it was through Egyptian mediation and was not direct) bolstered Hamas's reputation in the Palestinian Authority, in the region, and internationally. The perfect and precise execution of the deal, and the fact that Gilad Shalit was treated in the last few years of his imprisonment better than many feared, is helping Hamas with its public relations.

Turkey cannot ignore the deal between Israel and Hamas. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Ankara has always considered Hamas a political, not a terrorist, organization. To a certain extent, it feels more comfortable with Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh than with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu-Mazen). Erdogan never hid his own sympathy for Hamas, and has said more than once that he desires to visit Gaza.

In light of the above, its seems reasonable that Turkey would be interested in continuing in the direction that Israel-Hamas relations have taken, including the cultivation and strengthening of the channel of communication between the two sides. Turkey could not refuse to offer the sides its assistance, especially with respect to the discussion of the continuing siege on Gaza.

Things do not need to be done in the open. The intelligence channel is more appropriate for this than open channels. David Meidan, who performed superbly in the Shalit deal, could be the Israeli contact with Turkish intelligence, and in this way quietly begin to rehabilitate relations between Israel and Turkey. It is also preferable that future decisions regarding the prisoners who were sent to Turkey be coordinated with Israel.

Expectations in Israel should be moderate and measured. The break with Turkey is real, and the dark clouds are not going to dissipate any time soon. However, if all of the Israeli organizations that rushed to lend a hand to Turkey following the earthquake are truly interested in rehabilitating relations, then the Shalit deal, and not the earthquake in eastern Turkey, is the appropriate impetus. Following upon the heels of the political achievements from the Shalit deal is currently the only way to improve the rocky relationship with Turkey.

*The author, a former Foreign Ministry Director General, has written numerous books on Turkey.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on October 25, 2011

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2011

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