Israel and Turkey showing moderate signs of renewed ties
Revival of relationship happens as Turkey regains its place as a major asset to the West; Israel would do well to forget its pride and cozy up.
Political manners and diplomatic behavior are not exactly the trademark of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Israel is already intimately acquainted with his sharp tongue and in-your-face style, and it is not the only one.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has also been treated to a heavy helping of sharp criticism and sanctions from Ankara, accompanied by the demand that he resign. When Erdogan is angry, he says what is in his heart. Even the French president and the German chancellor have not been spared by him.
Any new nuance in his speech requires attention, and with regard to Israel, the nuances are beginning to turn positive.
Thus, for example, Erdogan refrained from expressing his views about the latest Israeli attacks on Gaza. Even the government's plan to fast-track thousands of housing units in the territories as a punishment for the Palestinians' UNESCO bid, went by without comment.
One could claim that in the wake of Israel's donation of temporary housing after the earthquake that hit Turkey last month, Erdogan is merely refraining from biting the hand that feeds.
But turkey's readiness to accept David Meidan, the mediator in the Shalit swap, who has been appointed to thaw relations with Ankara, is a sign of good will. To this can be added the fact that Turkey did not accompany the latest flotilla that made a run at Gaza.
It can be stated, cautiously, that something good is developing between the two countries.
Israel is not ignoring the signals coming out of Ankara and is even reciprocating in kind. Last week, the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which is in charge of selling arms, informed the American Senate that it planned to sell Turkey three Super Cobra assault helicopters for $111 million. The choppers are meant to be used against the Kurdish rebel group PKK.
Before the official announcement to the Senate, Pentagon officials examined whether the request was likely to meet with opposition, particularly from pro-Israel circles. Once it became clear Israel was not likely to oppose the sale, the official request was submitted and is expected to be approved on November 13.
Washington has also agreed to sell Ankara - once again without opposition from Israel - information about the source code of the F-16's weapons system, allowing Turkey to program the aircraft it has bought. Congress had previously opposed selling Turkey weapons systems or software programs because of its frosty relations with Israel.
Ankara and Washington's relationship goes much deeper than how Israel feels about it. Turkey has agreed to let the Americans station an anti-missile warning radar system designed as a first line against an Iranian missile attack on its territory. (The Turks only acceded after being promised that information from the radar would not be transferred to Israel ).
And Turkey has also toed the American line on its position toward the Syrian regime. But Israel still could have derailed the arms deals. It is good that it refrained from doing so.
Turkey has begun a huge project of beefing up its defense infrastructure. It is adding 30 F-16s to its air force at a price of $2 billion (the deal was signed in 2007 ) and is increasing the budget of its intelligence service and army by some $6 billion. It is also expanding its arms exports to African countries and Pakistan.
Erdogan should be especially pleased with his country's new international status. Just six months ago, Turkey was being accused of abandoning the West and sliding toward Iran and Syria. Today, no reasonable Western leader would point to Turkey as an opponent.
Erdogan has succeeded in turning Turkey into a sought-after country with a strong economy. It had 9 percent growth in 2010 and is expecting 7 percent growth in 2011.
It is true that there are fears about this hot economy since inflation peaked at 7.7 percent in October and the central bank dramatically raised the interest rate so as to reduce the scope of loans, but so far that has not threatened the political or diplomatic wave that Erdogan is riding.
In Washington, Turkey no longer has to rely on Israel lobbying on its behalf. Ankara's interests are now seen as in line with American interests, whereas Jerusalem is quickly gaining a reputation as a tiresome burden on American policy.
Turkey will be front and center as a major regional influence should Assad lose power in Damascus, it will exert its influence in Iraq after the final withdrawal of the American troops from that country, and it is currently helping curb Iranian influence in central Asia. Any rational country would want strong relations with a Turkey of that kind.
It is a shame that Israel still considers prestige and honor strategic assets, and not an alliance with a rising regional power.
The signs of thawing between Ankara and Jerusalem are important and encouraging but they will not be sufficient unless Israel escapes from the trap in which it is stuck, apologizes for killing Turks aboard the blockade-running Mavi Marmara in 2009, and reaches an agreement on compensation.
A country that agreed to hand over 1,000 terrorists in order to bring home a single soldier can also apologize in order to preserve national interests.