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Turkey, Israel and the EU

The Israeli government has bowed to Turkish threats and made an official written apology to the Turkish ambassador in Tel Aviv for the insults he was subjected to earlier this week by Danny Ayalon, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister. Ayalon had humiliated the ambassador while he complained about some Turkish TV programmes and statements made by the Turkish Prime Minister; Recep Tayyip Erdogan had criticised in no uncertain terms the Israeli bombing of Gaza Strip a year ago and Israel’s use of excessive force against the Palestinians.

The Deputy Foreign Minister tried to avoid an apology by admitting that he had acted inappropriately but with no indication of regret forthcoming the Turkish government rejected his statement and insisted on an unambiguous apology, which is exactly what it got. Israel’s apology may ease the tension between the two countries for the time being, but it is unlikely to restore relations back to the “golden period” prior to the election of the moderate Islamic ‘Justice and Development Party’ in Ankara.


Turkey is currently witnessing a process of strategic and in some senses profound change under the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The catalyst has been the European Union’s shunning of Turkey at the insistence of some of its members, especially France, which continues to use its veto every time Turkey applies for membership of the EU.

Erdogan’s Islamic government has responded patiently and intelligently, particularly in meeting Europe’s conditions for membership: it has abolished the death penalty, turned a blind eye on illegal sexual relations between adults and launched other freedoms. The Turkish government has also banned the use of torture in prisons (something that the Israelis would do well to copy), improved the profile of human rights across the country and allowed minorities, especially the Kurds, to use their own language, which has been recognised as one of Turkey’s official languages; they also now have permission to establish their own media.

These developments made at Europe’s insistence have not brought Turkey any closer to joining the EU; nor has its strategically important membership of NATO and the valuable services provided by the Turkish military establishment for sixty years or more. It has been suggested by some that the approved portal for access to the Western world is a strong relationship with Israel.

However, Erdogan’s Turkey looks as if it is opting for the East, and the Islamic world in particular – its natural home and abandoning completely the illusory holy grail of joining the European Union, the membership of which appears to be limited to Anglo-Saxon nations with a Judeo-Christian heritage; there may be a few exceptions to this, for cynical political reasons, but Turkey is not even eligible to qualify through that route.

The cosy relationship developed between Turkey and Israel since the late fifties has become a moral, ideological and psychological burden on the Erdogan government. This became very obvious after last year’s brutal Israeli invasion of Gaza which killed many women and children, destroyed homes and the territory’s infrastructure, and led to a tightening of the blockade. Unprecedented in living memory, the people of Gaza are being prevented by Israel (with collaboration from Egypt and Western governments) from rebuilding what Amnesty International and others have called their “shattered society”.

Turkey has treated the latest Israeli arrogance with the contempt it deserved, working from a position of strength and self-confidence. It is an approach that Israeli governments are not used to, especially from countries in the Muslim world. It will be interesting if this will give others the confidence to stand-up to Israeli belligerence using diplomatic means, or if they will stand in line, meekly, waiting to do the Zionists’ bidding.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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