Agenda: With George Friedman on Turkish-Israeli Relations

MIN READSep 9, 2011 | 13:59 GMT

STRATFOR CEO Dr. George Friedman explains the deterioration of the long-standing relationship between Israel and Turkey and how both sides' geopolitical interests will affect whether that relationship can be re-established.

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Colin: The once close relationship between Turkey and Israel has deteriorated further after a United Nations legal panel report on an incident in May last year, when a Turkish aid convoy to Gaza was attacked by Israeli forces, resulting in the death of nine Turkish activists. The report upheld the Israeli government's right to impose the blockade, but criticized the troops for excessive force. Turkey has now cut all military ties to Israel, and the relationship seems to be in tatters. Welcome to Agenda with George Friedman. Two questions: to what extent does the U.N. report really escalate the problems between Israel and Turkey; and to what extent does that matter? George: I don't think the report itself escalates the situation in any direction. It simply creates a moment in which the crisis that occurred a year ago during a flotilla incident resumes. I think that really the problem between Israel and Turkey hasn't been resolved — it's been put on hold — and it really doesn't revolve around either the flotilla or apologies. It really revolves around the question of whether Turkey and Israel can maintain their relationship they maintained during the Cold War and the years immediately after it. The world has changed fairly dramatically since the Cold War. The region in which Turkey operates is no longer threatened by the Soviet Union. It doesn't have a common interest with Israel in fighting the Soviets. Turkey is living in a world that is increasingly Islamist as opposed to secular. It's accommodating itself to it. Israel, in the meantime, has its own interests in trying to preserve what it thinks are its territorial interests, and they simply don't coincide with what Turkey is saying. Therefore, these are two countries that were once linked with common interests. Those interests have withered, and the relationship is seriously in trouble. Colin: In this context, do you think Israel and Turkey can repair their relationship and, if they can, what will that new relationship be? George: Well this is not like a marriage that gets repaired or unrepaired. These are more like businesses who have interests and the question is: will those interest realign? And there are certainly some common interests, though they're not as deep as they were 20 or 30 years ago. Because the foundation of the relationship has changed, the nature of the relationship is going to change. Also, the tolerance on the part of each side is going to change. From the Israeli point of view, the Turks have changed to becoming unrecognizable, they say. It used to be a secular republic, and they fear that it has become a religious one. From the Turkish point of view, the Israelis have become inflexible and unrealistic in their policies inside the Palestinian Territories 3.18, and the Israelis have simply not been willing to change their visions. So you have two countries — the basis of the relationship having very much dissolved in the past years — each having a view of the other as having changed irrevocably and neither really desperately needing the other. If you look at it on balance, Israel probably needs Turkey more than Turkey needs Israel simply because if Turkey were to throw its weight behind anti-Israeli forces in the region, which it has not done to this point, that would represent a serious challenge to Israel. On the other hand, there is relatively little that Israel can do to Turkey, certainly not in order to change its foreign policy. So you have had deterioration in the relationship. It is hard to imagine it being repaired, certainly not on the basis of which it was before and certainly not to the depth at which it operated before. And also there is a suspicion on both sides that the other has drifted in directions that are not acceptable. Colin: The relationship degrades. To what extent will this affect Turkey's relationship with the United States? George: Well, Turkey is trying very hard not to allow its relationship with the United States to be affected by its problems with Israel. It has gone out of its way to try to draw a distinction between the two. The United States frankly needs Turkey a great deal, particularly as it withdrawals from Iraq, as Iran becomes more assertive in the region. It needs a Turkey that is prepared to align with the United States. Turkey, on the other hand, is not prepared to go it alone yet. It is not in a position to police the region, if you will, simply without U.S. support. So the Turks are trying to be very careful with the Americans to make it very clear that the cause of this rift comes from Israel and Israel's unwillingness to apologize; Israel's unwillingness to accept Turkey as it is today; Israel's intransigence. The Israelis, at the same time, are very aggressive in trying to make it clear that Turkey has moved into the camp of the enemy of the United States by joining with the Islamists and trying to make the case that it alone is the only secure ally the United States has in the region. Those are public relations campaigns. The fact of the matter is that United States has uses for both countries. The use of Israel is certainly declined over the years since the end of the Cold War, but it still has uses in intelligence sharing and other matters, whereas Turkey is an ascendant power and, as an ascendant power, the United States is going to want to have a close relationship with it. The United States is not going to choose between Turkey and Israel and it won't allow itself to be maneuvered in that direction. But, on the other hand, it is also not going to allow itself to be split off from either country by the other. Colin: And this begs another question. With much of the Middle East in turmoil, especially its other neighbor, Syria, isn't there an opportunity for Turkey to assert itself — to take some kind of leadership role? George: Well, a leadership role is one of those things that people love to use. With leadership comes responsibility; with responsibility comes decisions; and with decisions comes possibility of error and bogging down. So, everybody likes the idea of leadership. The question is: what's the price for it? Now I think the Turks, very reasonably, are looking around at a region that the United States wasn't able to pacify, and it doesn't have the appetite to get engaged in that. For example, it doesn't know what the price of pacifying Syria would be; it doesn't know what the future would hold, and, therefore, it evades it. Leadership is a very heavy burden, and the Turks are not going to adopt that before they're ready. Colin: George, we'll leave it there. Thank you. George Friedman, ending this week's Agenda. Back again next week and, until then, bye for now.
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