Top Israeli General: As Long as Erdogan Is in Power, Israel Will Face Problems

Warning comes amid ongoing efforts at reconciliation between countries; IDF deputy chief of staff also criticized U.S. military's 'custom of using extensive military force'

Deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan.
Rami Shlush

Amid ongoing negotiations toward reconciliation between Israel and Turkey, the IDF deputy chief of staff made rare remarks on Tuesday regarding the negative effects the regime of Recep Erdogan has on the two countries' relationship. 

“As long as Turkey is ruled by a party with a strong Islamist orientation, by a ruler as adversarial as Erdogan, as long as this is the situation – we can expect problems and challenges,” Maj. Gen. Yair Golan said at a conference on "The IDF's current challenges" at Bar-Ilan University.

Terming Turkey a "very problematic factor," Golan added that Israel ought not intentionally create hostility and tense relations with Turkey, since Turkey is a "large and powerful country." Israel should instead strive to reduce tensions with Turkey, "while protecting our principles," Golan said. 

"This is a complicated subject but it should not lead us to extremes and undesirable corners," he added.

Ties between the two countries deteriorated sharply after a confrontation in the Mediterranean in May 2010 between Israel Navy commandos and passengers on the Mavi Marmara, a ship that was part of a flotilla seeking to break Israel's naval blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Ten of the ship's passengers were killed in the confrontation and a number of the commandos were injured in the confrontation.

Recently, senior Turkish officials have said that the crisis between the countries could soon be over. In Israel, however, it has been stressed that sticking points in the negotiations remain, along with the stance that the optimism the government in Ankara is conveying is overstated. 

In the conference, Golan also criticized U.S.'s military actions, saying that “The United States has made it a custom of using extensive military force in recent years – I’m not sure it’s to its benefit.” The U.S. military is "impressive," Golan said, but "in very many ways not much better than ours." 

"There are things in which they are better and things in which they are less good,” he said.

Asked about the IDF's relations with the Russian military, in light of Russia's campaign in neighboring Syria, Golan said that while the Russian presence in the region cannot be ignored it's "not necessarily bad." 

The Russians “understand excellently” Israel’s red lines and dialogue with the Russian military was very good, Golan added.  Coordination to avoid unnecessary friction between the two militaries is carried out on a very high level, he said.

"Around certain events, when possible friction arose, we sat together and things were immediately corrected," Golan said. "We are alright with them, don’t worry."

Golan also said that there is no need to use military power to invade Lebanon to wipe out the tens of thousands of missiles and rockets in the hands of Hezbollah. “We should go slowly. If in this chaos our situation is relatively comfortable, and I think it’s relatively comfortable, so let’s not disrupt it. And we will relate to threats from a position of strength.”

Regarding Israel's southern front with Gaza, Golan said he was “not convinced that this is a major reason for pride, the fact that we gave a number of years for Hamas and other groups to fire on residents of the border area around the Gaza Strip.”