Understanding the mechanics of the Turkish foreign policy process — and how that process is viewed by Israelis — means understanding Ahmet Davutoglu.
By Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak
Since the Israel Defense Force’s (IDF) Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in December 2008, Israeli-Turkish relations have suffered dramatically. This can be seen in the cancellation of joint military exercises, the rise of pro-Palestinian television programming in Turkey, and various diplomatic crises including Turkish Prime Minsiter Erdogan’s walkout at Davos, the “Short Chair” crisis caused by Israel’s deputy foreign minister, and the Gaza Flotilla incident. Yet these events are merely the tip of the iceberg.
Turkish foreign policy is shaped by Professor Ahmet Davutoğlu, the current foreign minister and former advisor on foreign affairs. Understanding the roots of the current Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) foreign policy towards Israel first requires a knowledge of Davutoğlu’s perception of the Jewish state.
In April 2001, Davutoğlu published a book, Strategic Depth, outlining his anti-Israel sentiments, declaring that a Jewish Israel is not suitable to the Middle East, and emphasizing differences between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
As the mastermind of neo-Ottomanism, which encourages Turkey to promote engagement with the nations of the former Ottoman Empire and influence their policies, Davutoğlu argued that Israeli-Turkish relations undermined the implementation of Turkey’s responsibilities derived from its Ottoman past. In his book, Davutoğlu accused the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) of adopting an Israeli-oriented foreign policy during the post-soft coup d’etat of February 28, 1997, a period in which the pro-Islamic government of Necmettin Erbakan was forced to resign by the TSK. Hence, while criticizing the TSK and its foreign policy, Davutoğlu argued that deepening Turkish–Israeli relations clashed with Turkish-Arab relations. Since his appointment, he has called for a revision in Turkish foreign policy.
The AKP began implementing Davutoğlu’s pro-Palestinian policies after a 2006 Hamas visit to Ankara, marking the first concrete sign of Davutoğlu’s influence in Israeli-Turkish relations. He was later honored by the Palestinian ambassador in Ankara, Nabil Maruf, for his “contributions to Turkish-Palestinian relations.” Davutoğlu’s foreign policy orientation became more transparent after Israel’s Cast Lead Operation in December 2008. In February 2009, after harsh and constant criticism surrounding the Davos Summit of January 2009, Istanbul hosted the “Victory in Gaza” Summit where 200 Arab and European Sunni sheikhs and clerics, including members of Hamas, declared a “jihad” against Israel and declared their support for Hamas.
In October 2009, the Israeli Foreign Ministry protested against Turkey over the state-run TRT-1 TV channel’s program, “Separation: Palestine in Love and in War,” that portrayed IDF soldiers intentionally murdering unarmed civilians in Gaza. Davutoğlu, foreign minister since May 2009, preferred to ignore the first crisis by claiming his agenda was booked and therefore had no time to deal with a TV series. In addition to the series, Turkish anti-Israeli propaganda and an anti-Israeli film, “Valley of Wolves: Palestine” — watched by over two million people — triggered an increase in anti-Semitism throughout the country.
According to a 2009 poll conducted by Istanbul-based Frekans Research Company, 42% of Turks declared that they would not want a Jewish neighbor. By 2012, the percentage rose to 54%, according to Bahçeşehir University.
Israeli-Turkish relations reached a turning point in 2010 after the Mavi Marmara flotilla was launched and nine activists lost their lives in an IDF raid. That same year, Davutoğlu strengthened his anti-Israel line when he declared that he had had a “vision” of praying in the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the future Palestinian capital of Jerusalem.
Davutoğlu, who ignored Israel’s diplomatic requests and warnings prior to the flotilla’s launch, regarded the raid, in which Turkish civilians were killed by a foreign army, as piracy, banditry, barbarism, and the “9/11” of Turkey. A March 2011 BBC survey stated that due to the Israeli-Turkish confrontation, 77% of Turks surveyed responded with negative sentiments towards Israel, while 9% of Turks expressed positive sentiments.
The relationship between the two countries suffered its most severe blow over the September 2011 U.N. Palmer Report, which stated that the ongoing Israeli blockade on Gaza is legal. In response, Davutoğlu issued sanctions against Israel, claiming that Israel would be forced to back down over his policies. Later, trying to mend the relationship, Davutoğlu set conditions for reconciliation, including an official Israeli apology, compensation, and an end of the blockade on Gaza. These demands remain unanswered by the Israelis.
Israeli skepticism and mistrust of Erdoğan and Davutoğlu are apparent in a statement by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Yaalon, accusing Turkey of consorting with Hamas and Iran. Davutoğlu’s policies, attitude, and demand for the removal of the Gaza blockade have helped Israelis see the iceberg as a whole. As such, Jerusalem does not think that an apology will restore relations. Instead, an Israeli apology will only come after a real change in attitude in Turkish foreign policy.
Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak is a doctoral candidate at the Graduate School of History in Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University. He is a junior research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies.
Photo credit: PressTV.ir