Despite regional threats, Turkey blocks Israel at NATO
While Turkey will block Israel's attendance at the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago, some commentators argue the two countries should mend fences as they face a number of common security challenges in the Middle East.
By Tulin Daloglu for SES Türkiye in Ankara -- 02/05/12
Israel has not been invited to the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago, a decision attributed to Turkey's move to block Israel's attendance.
Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, said on April 24th, "It is out of the question for us to be together with Israel in any partnership activity in any international organisation, not just NATO. We have already said that we have suspended such co-operation, except for forums such as the United Nations, where all countries are members."
Turkey insists Israel apologise and pay compensation for the May 2010 Mavi Marmara incident in which nine Turkish citizens were killed during an Israeli attempt to prevent the ship from reaching Gaza.
Turkey previously blocked Israel from opening an office at NATO headquarters and participating in the Mediterranean Dialogue group, a NATO outreach programme aimed at expanding regional security and co-operation with non-NATO members.
"[Turkey] has put into effect a policy to deny Israel room in international forums where Turkey has a say. This is the framework our foreign minister is taking action," said Ali Riza Alaboyun, an AKP deputy and Turkey's NATO Parliamentary Assembly Group chairman.
Jason Isaacson, the American Jewish Committee's Government and International Affairs director, calls the foreign minister's statement "regrettable."
"In fact, the direction that both governments should be going is the opposite way, towards finding ways to resolve these problems rather than throwing on gasoline," he told SES Türkiye.
But Alaboyun says Turkey will not change its policy towards Israel until it apologises for the Mavi Marmara incident.
"Just as the US would not like to see an Iranian diplomat today attending the summit as an observer, we do also have the right to deny Israel's participation," he told SES Türkiye.
Alon Liel, a former Israeli ambassador to Ankara, told SES Türkiye it is unfortunate Turkey has turned a bilateral issue into vetoing Israel's presence in international forums.
"This time it will be a NATO opportunity, next time it will be something else. This is now a normal Turkish policy," Liel said. "I think Ankara thinks not only it does not pay a price, but also it is helping the popularity of Turkey in the Middle East."
However, events in the Middle East are also showing that the lack of co-operation between the former close allies could have negative consequences for both sides.
Turkey's harsh stand against the ongoing crackdown in Syria, worsening relations between Turkey and Iran, as well as increasingly tense relations between Turkey and Iraq are showing that instead of "zero problems with neighbours", Turkey now has multiple problems.
In this context, Liel explained that "it is clearer than ever before that Israel and Turkey are in fact in the same camp when it comes to regional issues."
"This bilateral problem is now preventing an Israeli-Turkish co-operation that could today be very helpful in the conflict between Turkey and Syria," said Liel, noting that Iran is supporting the Syrian regime. "We're missing this opportunity."
Atilla Kart, a member of the main opposition CHP, questions whether Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's disappointment with Iran could proceed the same way as his disillusionment with Syria. He argues the government's tough posture against Israel does not necessarily damage the Jewish state's interests in the region.
He notes that Erdogan earned his popularity on the Arab street by exploiting hatred towards Israel. "In that context," Kart said, "we are saying that this current [Turkish] government is exploiting the religious beliefs of the people of the Middle East. The image they put forward does not represent the reality."