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Mediterranean Quarterly 12.3 (2001) 8-30
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Orienting Jerusalem toward Ankara or Cairo?
Israel's New Geostrategic Debate
Leon T. Hadar
For several years, some Israeli and American officials and journalists have been celebrating the emergence of a "strategic alliance" between Jerusalem and Ankara that was supposedly going to produce a new diplomatic and military realignment in the Middle East, with Israel and Turkey, backed by Washington, joining forces to help secure U.S. hegemony in the region against any potential anti-status quo coalition supported by Arab states, Iran, or outside players, including Russia or France. Indeed, some analysts have even suggested that strengthening strategic ties with Ankara will transform the post-Cold War Middle East, helping form something akin to a U.S.-oriented Turkish-Israeli condominium in the region, producing a split in Arab ranks, and forcing pro-U.S. Arab countries like Jordan and Egypt, and perhaps even Syria, to join the new bloc, while isolating more radical actors, like Iraq and Iran. But more important than anything else, Israel will finally have a reliable and steady ally in the Middle East that will provide it with a growing sense of security and help it defend itself against potential regional threats.
Daniel Pipes, a staunch proponent of the Israeli-Turkish alliance along these lines, states that the post-Cold War "New Middle East" is "rapidly sorting itself into two new regional power blocs." At the center of one bloc "stand Turkey and Israel, two countries that in many ways are natural partners." Both countries are non-Arab, democratic, and Western oriented, and "each maintains a large military and faces a major threat of terrorism." Both [End Page 8] put great store in their relationship with the United States, and each "has problems with both Syria and Iran, the two countries that happen to stand in the center of the opposing bloc." Pipes has even suggested that unlike the "superficiality" of the relations between Syria and Iran, which, according to him, are reminiscent of those between Germany and Japan during World War II, the relationship between Israel and Turkey "resembles that between the United States and Great Britain in that war." 1
It came therefore as a shock to many Israelis to discover that when push came to shove, when the Jewish state had suddenly to deal with a new and violent Palestinian uprising aimed at ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the creation of an independent Palestinian state, the new "ally," Turkey, refused to support the Israeli position and sided, together with all Arab and Muslim states, with the Palestinians in their miniwar against Israel. It wasn't the case of "Turkey turning against Israel," 2 as one media outlet put it, but a reflection of Turkey pursuing its core national interests that regard Israel not as an ally it has to defend against external aggression but as just another important regional player with which it shares on some level a few common interests. If anything, it was the high level of expectations produced by the champions of the Turkish-Israeli strategic partnership that may have ended up making some Israelis feel that Turkey was nothing more than a fair-weather friend.
Wither the Turkish-Israeli "Alliance?"
After the fighting between Israelis and Palestinians commenced, following the collapse of the Camp David talks in 2000 and against the backdrop of anti-Israeli demonstrations in Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey accused Israel of using excessive force in the clashes with the Palestinians, called on it to end attacks in the Palestinian areas, and urged the United States to put pressure on Israel to end the violence. At the same time, Turkey increased its consultation with Egypt and the Palestinians. Reflecting the growing cooperation [End Page 9] between Ankara and Cairo, Turkish president Ahmet Necdet Sezer phoned his Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, in the middle of August 2000, and the two agreed to work together to restore calm in the Palestinian territories. 3
Moreover, amid the mounting tensions between the Palestinians and Israelis, Ankara...