Opinion |

The Truth Behind Turkey's Sudden Embrace of Israel

Erdogan, who provided a base for Hamas and permitted the Mavi Marmara to sail to Gaza, will not suddenly turn into Anwar Sadat or King Hussein

יקי דיין
Yaki Dayan
Then-Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, left at a 2003 meeting in Ankara with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister at the time.
Then-Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, left, at a 2003 meeting in Ankara with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister at the time.Credit: Tarik Tinazay/AP/Pool
יקי דיין
Yaki Dayan

In recent days, after a long telephone conversation between President Isaac Herzog and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, commentators are talking about the possibility of a renaissance, a new era in relations.

So said the director general of the Foreign Ministry and former ambassador to Turkey, Alon Liel, as well as Zvi Bar’el in Haaretz.

As the chief of staff for Foreign Ministers Silvan Shalom and Tzipi Livni, I participated in a number of small meetings with Erdogan, during the days in which he still met with Israeli leaders. In all of these meetings I felt one thing clearly: The conspicuous lack of affection for Israel, and even hatred, did not come from his head but from his heart.

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These were difficult meetings, charged and very unpleasant, which heralded what the future would bring – from cutting off all government ties to the Mavi Marmara affair. Erdogan had a clear vision concerning the new Middle East, and it did not include Israel. The peoples and economies may have continued to cooperate, but the relations on the level of governments deteriorated.

Benjamin Netanyahu understood, saw and felt it, and without a doubt the construction of the “Aegean Axis” with Greece and Cyprus was a sort of response, though inadequate, because the strategic relations with Turkey have no real counterweight.

And now one conversation between the presidents and the spirit of the commentators has changed. “Can a leopard change its spots?!” Highly doubtful.

The cold wind blowing in the direction of Turkey from the Biden administration, which will only grow stronger, the failing economy and the Turkish vision of the Middle East, which has collapsed, may be causing a tactical change in Erdogan’s attitude toward Israel, but this change will always be only tactical, not strategic.

We have an understandable tendency to blame ourselves for everything that doesn’t work, but in this case, the relationship was hopeless from the beginning. Let them say, what’s the connection between this psychological analysis and the future of the relationship?

An outsider wouldn’t understand. Only those who were present in a meeting with Erdogan and felt his burning hatred for Israel, and only those who heard what he said, can understand how deeply these things are imprinted in his worldview.

I don’t rule out a tactical narrowing of differences. Israel also has weighty interests in such closer relations, but we need to go there with our eyes open, and know that the man who provided a base for Hamas activists and permitted the Mavi Marmara to sail to Gaza will not suddenly turn into Anwar Sadat or King Hussein.

Erdogan is an ideological leader with a clear view of the world, and while we come with a clear willingness and intention to improve relations, we always need to remember that.

Jacob (Yaki) Dayan was Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles, and the chief of staff to Foreign Ministers Silvan Shalom and Tzipi Livni.

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