Many are the challenges facing Israel at the cusp of a brand new season.
The Palestinians’ way to the United Nations for statehood looms. The bid, set for Sept. 21, bears down on Jerusalem with the knowledge of an autumn chill.
The weekend desecration of the Israeli embassy by a Cairean mob was a kind of shocks that isn’t quite a surprise, given the longstanding antipathy of the Egyptian public toward the Jewish State. More telling was the response of the Egypt’s military rulers, who in step with Israeli officials went missing throughout the hours that mobs laid siege as Israeli guards awaited rescue from Egyptian commandos who didn’t take place til 4 a.m. How fraught are relations between Egypt and Israel? On Sunday, an Israeli army vehicle patrolling near the location of the Aug. 18 terror attack near the resort city of Eilat took fire from the Egyptian side of the border. The Israelis didn’t return fire. Who knew who was shooting at them?
And yet, the trash talk with Turkey qualifies in lots of ways because the great crisis of the moment. It isn’t just that Turkey’s Prime Minister was threatening to send warships to confront the Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, calling the 2010 deaths of eight Turks by the hands of Israeli commandos “a casus belli,” or act of war. Nor is it reports that, in response, Israel’s reliably bellicose Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, mulled aloud about reaching out to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK — regarded by the U.S… as a 15 may organization — simply to mess with the Turks.
It’s that, not five years ago, these two countries weren’t merely allies, but strategic allies, the type a nation forms a foreign policy around.
“Israel-Turkey relations were great as much as three or four years ago,” recalls Dan Haloutz, a former chief of staff for the Israel Defense Forces. “When I USED TO BE a commander, I used to fly to Turkey on every military training we had with the Turkish air force, and we had so much — a lot.”
The ties were snug, and a minimum of appeared essential. Israel hasn’t numerous air space, and so was grateful for access to the wide open skies over Anatolia for fighter pilots to log flight hours. In return Turkey bought Israeli tanks, and still relies heavily on Israel’s remote controlled drones to trace and attack the very PKK rebels the foreign minister reportedly was trying to cultivate. Clear of government, commerce runs a minimum of $3 billion a year between the countries.
And though 99 percent of Turks are Muslims, Jews has been long welcome in Istanbul, not least because the Spanish Inquisition, when the Ottoman sultan gave refuge to these offered the selection of conversion to Christianity, death or expulsion. Some still speak Ladino, or “Jewish Spanish.” Even after 9/11 Israelis felt safe enough in Turkey to flock to its Mediterranean discount resorts; the departures board at Ben Gurion Airport on a summer day lists charter flight after charter flight to Antalya.
That abruptly changed on Memorial Day, 2010, when Israel’s version of the SEALs boarded the Mavi Marmara. The converted ferry was en path to supply the besieged residents of Gaza, an act that ostensibly violated Israeli sovereignty. These were the folk about whom Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had angrily lectured Israel’s head of state at Davos a year earlier, within the wake of the three-week Israeli military incursion that left 1,400 Palestinians dead.
After the flotilla fiasco, charters to Turkey were cancelled overnight, and Israel began steering its tourists toward Greece. But things really did seem to be at the mend this summer. In June, Turkey joined Greece in preventing the makings of a brand new flotilla from leaving their ports to challenge the Gaza blockade anew. Behind the scenes, Israel dispatched diplomats to hammer out language that might salve the injuries to Turkey’s quite extraordinary national pride and at last put the 2010 deaths behind both countries, who said they desired to be friends again. “Turkey welcomes you,” said the resort ads that started to appear in Israel. In smaller print: “As always.”
The negotiations, however, ended not in language acceptable to all sides but within the release of a United Nations report at the flotilla that found fault with each side but simply outraged Turkey. Israel’s ambassador to Ankara was formally expelled to Jerusalem. He was joined the next week by Israel’s ambassador to Egypt, who merely fled. And on Monday, Erdogan arrived with great fanfare in Cairo.
The days are growing shorter.