Should Israel be Turkey’s Wet Rag?

Israel has very, very few strategic friends. In the United Nations, for example, just three countries reliably vote against anti-Israel motions: Israel, United States and (believe it or not) Micronesia.

Against this background, Turkey became a strategic ally to Israel in the late 1990’s, resulting in a Free Trade Agreement in 2000 (Israel now exports an annual $1.5 billion in goods and services to Turkey, and imports more than $1 billion); large Turkish Ministry of Defence contracts for Israeli products, with joint military exercises; and Turkey’s key diplomatic role in Israel/Syrian negotiations

By 2008, Turkey was the single most popular foreign destination for Israeli tourists, representing 13% of all departures and generating an estimated $300 million in annual revenues. About 70% of these travelers headed for the resorts around Antalya.

This idyllic relationship seemed to also weather the change in Government in Turkey, in March 2003, from the secular DSP-MHP-ANAP coalition led by Bulent Ecevit, to the Islamist AKP party under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

However, the war in 2008/9 between Israel and the Hamas in Gaza ostensibly put the relationship into a dramatic nose-dive.

Public and outspoken criticism by Erdogan included pronouncements that Israel was guilty of war crimes, and Erdogan’s dramatic, televised walk out of his debate with Israel’s octogenarian President Shimon Peres at the Davos conference in Switzerland in February 2009.

Since then, Erdogan has not let up, including calling Israel “a threat to world security”, during a meeting this week with Lebanese President Hariri, who was accompanied by his new Minister for Agriculture, Hussein Al-Hajj of Hizballah (now a part of the Lebanese Governing coalition).

The hostility has also reached popular culture in Turkey, with the recent launch of two vitriolic and inciting TV series, casting the IDF (in one) and Mossad (in the other) as cold-blooded satanic child-murderers.

In October 2009 a high-profile military exercise, together with Turkey, Israel and the USA was cancelled by Turkey due to Israel’s participation.

In parallel to the concerted destruction of good relations with Israel, Turkey has been about-turning their relationship with historically ‘problematic’ neighbors Syria, Iran, Iraq, Greece and the Armenians, a foreign policy dubbed as “zero problems with neighbors”.

Syrian president Assad visited Ankara, and Erdogan visited Iranian President Ahmedinijad in Tehran, in the past months, signing dozens of both commercial and strategic defence agreements.

Throughout all this, the Israeli Foreign Office has reacted in way which can only be described as stunned silence. Even Shimon Peres absurdly recently described relations as “absolutely perfect” between Israel and Turkey.

Avigdor Liberman, technically Israel’s Foreign Minister, but practically sidelined form any foreign policy role, has made his views known that Israel’s good relationship with Turkey is “finished”.

This week Liberman's deputy Foreign Minister and Yisrael Beteinu party colleague, Danny Ayalon, called in Oguz Celikkol, Turkey’s ambassador to Israel, and delivered both a scathing verbal complaint about the latest anti-Semitic/anti-Israeli TV show, and also stage-managed the meeting to give non-verbal signals of displeasure – such as high vs low seating, lack of a Turkish flag on the table, keeping the Ambassador waiting some minutes in the corridor, etc.

Danny Ayalon has been roundly criticized in the Israeli Press for the theatrical side of the dressing down, which reportedly exceeded normal diplomatic protocols. If this is true, then Ayalon surely knew it, as he was Israel’s Ambassador to the USA between 2000-2006.

Israel’s diplomatic response to the deliberate campaign of destruction of the previously excellent relations between Israel and Turkey, fully orchestrated by Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan over the previous 12 months, is the equivalent of the beaten wife, who cannot absorb the reality of her husband’s abusiveness and hatred.

Regretfully, repeatedly seeking “shalom bayit” (domestic peace), when only one party wants it, is not a rational policy, but dangerous delusion.

Israel is not Turkey’s wet rag (smartut) – and we will not regain Turkey’s respect by adopting that role.


  1. I just heard today that Erdogan invented the "300 babies" statistic from Gaza, that not even the Palestinians ever claimed such a high number. (In reality only 2 Palestinian babies were killed in the Cast Lead crossfire.)

  2. David,

    I readily agree with everything you wrote about Turkey and the beating we receive from their officials in public. Up to one point, and the point is the reception organized by Lieberman and Ayalon. It was a provincial, stupid and pointless demonstration. And the best proof of it was the repeated apologies by Ayalon (I tend to blame Lieberman in this case, knowing his boorish and thuggish ways).

    There are several (accepted) ways of expressing one nation's unhappiness with its relations with another one, some of them quite insulting. None of these ways includes the idiocy displayed for all to see by the pair of thinkers mentioned above.

    As a result of this stupid shenanigan, instead of discussing the core issues of our problems with Turkey, we are already a week into apologizing for this inexplicable breach of diplomatic protocol. If that was the purpose of Lieberman/Ayalon act, it reached the goal only too well.


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