Q&A: Gallagher Fenwick on the breakdown of Turkish-Israeli relations

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced Friday Turkey has decided to downgrade diplomatic relations with Israel expelling its ambassador and cutting military. The break comes over Israel’s refusal to apologise for the Gaza flotilla takeover in May 2010 that resulted in the deaths of eight Turks and one American.


Our Jerusalem Correspondent, Gallagher Fenwick (@gallaghereport) tells us more about the latest developments.



[ISRAEL POST]: Ankara severing diplomatic ties with Israel comes as no surprise. What have been the reactions on the ground?


[GALLAGHER FENWICK]: Let’s first mention that UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon's objective when establishing this commission was to allow Israel and Turkey to talk things over and mend their strained relationship. Obviously, that failed. Israeli Foreign Ministry officials who are usually very expansive and available when it comes to commenting on Israeli diplomacy have received clear instructions: not a word on Turkey! Israeli officials are in crisis mode after Ankara's dramatic decision. That being said, Israeli officials in previous years had been warning that this day would come and that the outcome was inevitable. One source had told France 24 earlier this year: "Turkey made this decision to distance itself from Israel a while ago, three to four years ago, but it needed an excuse to fully implement it. The flotilla served that purpose. Turkey is simply trying to re-establish itself as a superpower in the region and compete with Iran, while Arab influence wanes".


[ISRAEL POST]: Senior Israeli officials continue to say that Israel will not apologise for the raid and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had reiterated this to the U.S. administration. But, loosing Turkey as a strategic ally given the growing instability of the region could come at a high cost. Do you think isolation is the name of the game?


[GALLAGHER FENWICK]: Long before the flotilla incident, Israel had been looking around for a [diplomatic] replacement in the region. Early on Netanyahu set his eyes on Greece, a strange ally to say to least given the country's reputedly fierce resentment of Israel and the fact that Greece offers no connection to the Muslim world. But, Greece is also Turkey's loathed neighbour, a fact which Israeli officials certainly did not overlook when organising this rapprochement, which later culminated in Greek coast guards preventing another flotilla from sailing to Gaza. Behind closed doors however, some are saying that this was not a honeymoon but rather an affair meant to taunt Turkey. This Friday, one Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity said that Turkey is playing tough but actually cannot afford to severe all ties with Israel, which would go against its strategic interest in the region. That source also argued that the US would not let that happen. However, another source claims that military ties were cut a while ago in order to avoid that Israeli weapons fall in the wrong hands. So, isolation? Not at all. As for what Defence Minister Ehud Barak forecasts as a "diplomatic tsunami" at the UN when more than 120 countries vote favourably on a Palestinian resolution? It won’t change a thing for the Israeli government. It’s like what Dan Haloutz, Former Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army went on to say: "a resolution is not the solution. It won’t make skies fall on Israel”.


[ISRAEL POST]: In addition, Ankara is threatening to halt trade between Turkey and Israel, which totals billions of dollars. How do you believe this might put additional pressure on the Netanyahu government given the growing concern Israelis have over their economy and facing fresh protests Saturday?


[GALLAGHER FENWICK]: Again, Israeli officials are not making any comments at the moment. Lets wait and see if Turkey goes that far. But it is a move that would hurt both Israeli and Turkish economies. As far as putting a strain on the Netanyahu government, he does have a lot of fish to fry with Sinai, Gaza, the Arab Spring, the UN resolution three weeks away... Having said that, the average Israeli does not feel that his country needs to apologise for the raid against the flotilla. Israeli public opinion perceived it as provocation against Israel. There were ministers inside Netanyahu's coalition urging him to offer some sort of watered down apology in order to preserve the precious and historic relation with Turkey. But the Israeli prime minister went with the street opinion, which does not connect the current social movements to foreign policy and the recent events with Turkey.


Romina Ruiz-Goiriena and Gallagher Fenwick


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