Relations between Turkey and Israel have been strained to the breaking point, ever since nine Turkish activists on the Mavi Marmara tried to run Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza, and were killed by Israeli naval commandos in May of last year. In the years preceding this incident, relations between the two countries were relatively good, including strategic cooperation, tourism, economic cooperation, and the like. But since the Mavi Marmara affair, any attempt at rapprochement by Israel was met with; “apologize first,” by Prime Minister Erdogan.
In light of this recent and contentious history, rumors that Turkey may be willing to help mediate the prisoner exchange by which IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, now being held by Hamas militants, would be released, seemed too good to be true. Why, in the face of such strong positions taken by Turkey, would Prime Minister Erdogan even consider helping Israel secure the release of her soldier, Gilad Shalit?
The answer may well be the “Arab Spring,” or more specifically the “Syrian Spring.” The turmoil in the Arab world is plain to see, and is most vividly brought home by the relentless killing of demonstrators in both Libya and Syria. Particularly in Syria, the killing spree by the government seems to know no bounds, and is affecting Turkey directly by the swell of refugees crossing over the border.
There is little doubt that Turkish attitudes have changed, as the current harsh realities of the Arab street are factored in. And in fact, as Turkey searches for some measure of stability in the region, is it a wonder that she may look to Israeli in that regard? The ups and downs of Israeli/Turkish relations may well pale by comparison, as compared to the existential threats posed by the “Syrian Spring,” with its widespread and far reaching implications for the region as a whole. In short, a strategic partnership with Israel may be a bitter pill to swallow, but may also be the right medicine at the right time.
Rumors have it that we will soon see: the appointment of new ambassadors to Tel Aviv and Ankara, a renewal of a strategic partnership between the two countries, an Israeli apology for last year’s flotilla fiasco, and official confirmation of the Turkish mediation efforts in the Shalit affair. Much of the progress in this regard has been fostered and encouraged by President Obama and his administration, which is trying to bridge the divide between Washington and Ankara, and which sees a rapprochement between Israel and Turkey as indispensable in this regard.
If it is true that the “Syrian Spring” has played a significant role in bringing Turkey and Israel closer together, then this has widespread implications for the region as a whole. There is no doubt that the history of the Middle East is replete with enmity between Israel and much of the Arab world. Rightly or wrongly, and I believe wrongly, Israel and the U.S. have been blamed for much that has gone wrong in that troubled region.
However, the “Arab Spring” may have ushered in a new day, a turning point of sorts. Whereas in the past, Israel and the U.S. have served as convenient scapegoats, as a way of diverting attention away from the inadequacy of corrupt and oppressive leadership, today, in light of new realities on the Arab street, Israel and the U.S. may better serve as friends in need, as partners who may be of help in averting existential threats, and helping to usher in a new age in the Middle East, based on a Vision of Hope for the region, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom.
It would be quite ironic indeed if all this came to pass, but no less ironic than some of the other craziness that takes place on a daily basis in this mysterious place we call the Middle East.
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