July 14, 2021 | Israel Hayom

Turkish-Israeli rapprochement is a great idea, if not for Erdogan

Israelis and Turks interested in closer ties between their nations will likely have to wait until 2023 when – if the latest polls are accurate – a disgruntled Turkish electorate is expected to vote the hardline ruler out of office.
July 14, 2021 | Israel Hayom

Turkish-Israeli rapprochement is a great idea, if not for Erdogan

Israelis and Turks interested in closer ties between their nations will likely have to wait until 2023 when – if the latest polls are accurate – a disgruntled Turkish electorate is expected to vote the hardline ruler out of office.

Monday’s 40-minute phone call between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli President Isaac Herzog has once again raised hopes for normalizing relations between Ankara and Jerusalem. Israeli-Turkish rapprochement would be a win-win development for both countries, but Erdogan’s personal interests militate against warming relations.

The history of close Israeli-Turkish cooperation that preceded Erdogan’s consolidation of power is a testimony to the benefits of friendship, yet with the economy sinking, it might not be long before the Turkish president seeks to redirect voters’ anger away from himself and toward an alternate target, such as the Jewish state.

Israeli and Turkish citizens interested in rapprochement will likely have to wait until 2023, when – if the latest polls are accurate – a disgruntled Turkish electorate is expected to vote Erdogan out together with the country’s Islamist-ultranationalist ruling coalition.

For the rapprochement enthusiasts, the good news is Erdogan is a pragmatist. Despite his ideological zeal and blunt expression of his prejudices about Jews and Israel, he has posed no obstacles in office to the booming trade between the two countries, which reached an annual volume of $6 billion before the COVID-19 pandemic. It also helps that Erdogan controls a loyal and weathervane-like media army that can switch overnight from vilifying Jews and Israel to preaching virtues of rapprochement.

For the rapprochement enthusiasts, however, Erdogan’s fickle opportunism is bad news. The Turkish economy is in the midst of a nosedive, triggering rampant inflation and unemployment, thereby eroding Erdogan’s popularity ahead of the 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections.

To distract attention away from the economy, the Turkish president and his ultranationalist allies are desperate to mobilize voters around symbolic issues. Anyone who follows Turkish politics closely knows that anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli rhetoric works like magic every single time with Erdogan’s base. So, it should not come as surprise when the Turkish president takes another one of his legendary U-turns within a few months, if not weeks, to return to his Islamist factory settings.

It is true that Ankara’s foreign and security policy establishment is increasingly wary of Turkey’s growing isolation in the Eastern Mediterranean and eroding image within the transatlantic alliance. Many officials and analysts see rapprochement with Israel as a magic pill to fix those problems. Yet pinning one’s hopes on that establishment would require a naïve optimism about the capacity of Turkey’s embattled institutions to exert meaningful influence under Erdogan’s hyper-centralized rule.

If history is any guide, Erdogan will not be able to curb two of his worst instincts as he plays to his base: open support for Hamas, which international media outlets have documented repeatedly, and anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli tirades. Sadly, such acts that advance the Turkish president’s Islamist ideology remain at odds with the interests of the secular Republic of Turkey and its diverse citizenry composed not only of Muslims, Christians, and Jews, but also a growing number of deists, atheists, and agnostics.

For those who believe in the potential of Israeli-Turkish cooperation for advancing peace and prosperity for both countries as well as for the Middle East, keeping bilateral institutional channels open and investing in people-to-people ties would be the best strategy in anticipation of a genuine rapprochement after 2023. Such bona fide efforts would be the best preparation to celebrate jointly the centennial of the Turkish Republic and the 75th anniversary of the State of Israel.

Aykan Erdemir is a former member of the Turkish parliament and senior director of the Turkey Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @aykan_erdemir. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

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Israel Palestinian Politics Turkey