Turkey’s spectacular fallout with Israel in the aftermath of last year’s flotilla raid could damage the key NATO member’s ties with the US and leaves the Jewish state even more isolated, say analysts.
Almost since the creation of Israel more than six decades ago, Turkey has been seen as its firmest friend in the Muslim world, the pair not only forging strong diplomatic and trade ties but also relations between their militaries.
But with Friday’s announcement by Ankara that it was not only expelling Israel’s ambassador but also severing military ties, their relations are now at an all-time low that observers say will have far wider ramifications.
Turkey had been the first predominantly Muslim country to recognize the state of Israel, in 1949.
While Prime Minister Reccep Tayep Erdogan’s hard line towards Israel since the deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla last year has been popular among Turkish voters, some observers say Ankara will end up paying a heavy price by upsetting a much more powerful ally, the United States.
“People see Turkish-Israeli relations as bilateral but they are in fact trilateral. We are all aware of the Israeli influence in US politics,” said Sabri Sayari of Istanbul’s private Sabanci University.
“If it goes this way, the deteriorating Turkish-Israeli ties will negatively affect Turkey’s relations with the US,” he said.
In particular, Sayari predicted that Turkey could find itself on the receiving end of negative resolutions in the US Congress like the adoption of a bill branding the World War I massacres of Armenians as genocide.
Last year a US Congressional panel voted to brand the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by the Turks as genocide, much to the fury of the Turkish government although that vote has to date not been endorsed by the Senate.
“Negative resolutions could now come out of Congress like on the Armenian issue,” said Sayari. “There is quite a strong pro-Israeli viewpoint in Congress. The White House is doing its best (to block such a vote) but it is up to the Senate and this will certainly have a negative impact there.”
Erdogan has long displayed a more confrontational attitude towards Israel, famously walking off stage after an angry exchange with then Israeli President, Shimon Peres, at the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos when he accused the Jewish state of a master in killing people.
Up until recently Erdogan’s stance has had little impact on the powerful military, many of whose leaders have strained ties with the prime minister’s Islamist rooted government.
But Friday’s announcement illustrated how what was seen by many in the military as political posturing is now having an impact.
“The government policy regarding relations with Israel is transforming into a state policy,” said Huseyin Bagci of Ankara’s Middle East Technical University, adding that it was “a dangerous situation”.
Other analysts however said that Israel would be the real loser of the breakdown in ties and it could ill afford to fall out with a rare friend in the Muslim state at a time of tumult in the Arab world.
Egypt’s long-term leader Hosni Mubarak was seen as the most pro-Israeli of all the Arab leaders but he is now on trial over the excesses of his security forces in the last days before his toppling in February.
Jordan is the only other country in the neighborhood to have diplomatic ties with Israel and even its regime has been jolted by protests.
“Turkey has given plenty of chances to Israel but Israel has not understood Turkey’s good faith,” said Osman Bahadir Dincer of the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization.
“The elitist policies will only help Israel isolate itself in the region.”
Apart from the diplomatic and military freezes, President Abdullah Gul also said on Friday that Turkey might consider “other measures” in the future, without elaborating.
Opposition parties lashed out at the government, saying it was further evidence of a diplomatic malaise at a time of deepening tension with Syria.
The Republican People’s Party (CHP) said that the government’s moves were “merely symbolic” and represented “a psychological decision.”