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  • Turkey and Israel’s Relationship in the Middle East
  • Joshua Walker (bio)

The emergence of a Turkish-Israeli alignment within the Middle East is arguably one of the most significant regional developments since the end of the Cold War. As a result of the publicly acknowledged, yet still classified, Strategic Agreements of 1996, the Turkish-Israeli relationship has received renewed attention and interest. In particular, the historical roots of the relationship between two of the region's most anomalous nation-states has come under closer scrutiny. Despite these efforts, however, discussions dealing with the relationship between these two countries generally begin with Turkey's step as the first Muslim country to recognize Israel in 1949 and then skip directly to the 1990s when the alignment publicly came to the forefront of Middle Eastern geopolitics. However, the agreements of the 1990s, which have led to the term "Turkish-Israeli alignment," did not emerge within a historical vacuum. The Jewish and Turkish people have a long and at times shared sense of history and identity. As a result, the historical roots of the relationship can be traced to far before the beginning of the Cold War. However, the fact that both the states of Israel and Turkey chose to affiliate themselves, both informally and through various alliances, with the United States instead of with the Soviet Union during the Cold War has caused many to assume that the alignment was a direct result of the Cold War.

In this article, argued largely from a Turkish perspective, it is maintained that while the formation of a Turkish-Israeli relationship was certainly not hurt by the emergence of the Cold War and a common Soviet threat, neither [End Page 60] was it directly fostered as a result of it. The truly indigenous nature of the Turkish-Israeli relationship must be understood from a variety of angles as a convergence of common interests, identities, and threat perceptions that did not culminate, because of domestic and foreign political considerations, into a public acknowledgement of an alignment until after the end of the Cold War.

The common arguments heard throughout the Middle East that Ankara and Jerusalem's relationship must have been directly controlled and created by Washington underestimates the extent to which these two actors independently sought to influence the United States through their own actions. While Washington remained an important factor for both Turkish and Israeli policy makers, often it was US policy makers that were being influenced by the Turkish-Israeli alignment and not the other way around. US foreign policy in the Middle East continues to be a turbulent and complex series of histories. However, in a post-9/11 world colored by American rhetoric of greater democratization for the greater Middle East, the two indigenous democracies of the region have assumed a new importance for US foreign-policy makers.

Both Turkey and Israel represent strong secular democracies that value their strategic relationship with the United States. However, despite the convergence of interests and orientation, Turkey and Israel face an increasingly hostile neighborhood that views each with suspicion and, when in tandem, with outright hostility. Recent events have not brought Turkey and Israel closer together in combating this hostility and in fact have even led some to question the very foundation upon which the alignment was based. Turkey's Islamist-leaning government's attempts to balance its sympathies for the Hamas-led Palestinian government and its strategic considerations, both domestic and international, for maintaining its friendly relationship with Israel have severely strained the alignment in the past few months. However, by understanding and analyzing the historical evolution of this relationship, even with the present challenges, a greater appreciation for it emerges. Turkish and Israeli politics and foreign policies are particularly difficult beasts to understand, but the vibrant discussions occurring in both countries presently about the nature and tone of the strategic alignment offers a cause for optimism. [End Page 61]

The Turks Look West

The historical roots of the Turkish-Israeli alignment predate not only the Cold War but even the formations of both the Republic of Turkey in 1923 and the State of Israel in 1947. Jewish and Turkish historians point to...


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pp. 60-90
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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Archived 2019
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