Between Washington and Tehran: Ankara

Israel Hayom | Between Washington and Tehran: Ankara.

Zalman Shoval

The first meeting between the Israeli and Turkish delegations to determine reparations for the families of those killed in the Mavi Marmara incident ended without result, but this “appeasement” between the two countries needs to be examined further.

The move, facilitated through American mediation, is perhaps the most important concrete achievement of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel. The achievement pertains not only to the bilateral relationship between Jerusalem and Ankara, but perhaps, to a greater extent, to a potential campaign against Iran.

U.S. strategy in our region has been based throughout the years on the American-Israeli-Turkish axis, until the diplomatic rupture with Ankara rendered this axis fundamentally disjointed. The role played by the U.S. in realigning the sides was most certainly crucial, and to assure the relationship’s long-term rehabilitation it will need to continue playing such a central role.

The Israeli interest is clear, and is not merely strategic or connected to cooperation between the countries’ defense establishments and military industries. It also relates to economic and geopolitical interests. The Turks, while trying to create the impression that they were forced to go along, have just as much interest in renewing ties as Israel does.

For some time now, various analysts have posited that the U.S. had lost interest in the Middle East; not only because it announced that its main focus would shift toward Southeast Asia, but because its increasing energy independence would allegedly reduce its need to remain actively involved in the region. It appears these conclusions were reached too quickly, and that despite its failures and mistakes over the years, America does not intend to abandon the regional stage, diplomatically or militarily.

Washington, in the meantime, has also realized that the Palestinian issue is not the most burning issue in the area, and that the clock on other matters is ticking at an increasing rate.

Additionally, an Israeli-Turkish agreement will be of vital importance if Obama shows he is serious about warning Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program. Indeed, if Washington decides to act militarily against Tehran, it will not only want to ensure that Turkey doesn’t make things difficult for the U.S. as it did in Iraq, bit that it is an active partner. It is reasonable to think, therefore, that Washington’s large weapons deals with Israel, Saudi Arabia and Gulf States, as well as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s recent visit to the region, are related to the Iranian issue.

Turkey also had other motives, outside its strategic considerations and its need to realign with the American position. Its pretentious foreign policy has recently led to a string of failures: The “Arab Spring” and the chaos in Syria have dashed, for the time being, Turkey’s neo-Ottoman dream; the EU has given Turkey the cold shoulder; and on the Palestinian front it hasn’t been invited to center stage at the negotiating table.

Moreover, its competition with Iran, either overt or covert, threatens Turkey’s ambitions to attain prominent status in the Arab world in general and in Iraq specifically.

The Turks realized the need to look in the mirror and ask themselves if the continued hostility toward Israel truly serves their basic interests, while “appeasement” allows them to come down from the tall tree they’ve climbed, even if it means losing face with their Hamas friends (which is why Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has insisted on visiting Gaza).

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