From Michael Reynolds
That Turkish-Israeli relations are experiencing a crisis became apparent to all the world at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland where Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Israeli President Shimon Peres exchanged harsh, emotional, and even insulting words Such public and personal recriminations between ostensible allies are virtually unheard of. In the immediate wake of the incident, both sides took modest steps to downplay and contain, albeit not reverse, the damage incurred at Davos.
This led some observers to conclude that ultimately the blow-out at Davos would amount to little. After all, the lynchpin of Turkish-Israeli relations is military cooperation. Both the Turkish and Israeli militaries have derived significant benefits from their cooperation. And as everyone knows, the Turkish military is highly autonomous in setting Turkish security policy and it has little sympathy for Erdoğan or the party he leads. Thus, according to this line of thinking, even if Erdoğan’s outburst was in fact more than a clever ploy to boost his party’s chances in the upcoming Turkish elections this March, the core of Turkish-Israeli relations, military cooperation, would still be preserved.
This is, I think, far too complacent an interpretation. As I suggested here, the deterioration in Turkish-Israeli relations that was revealed at Davos is rooted in part in structural changes, and the causes behind Turkey’s alienation from Israel are broader than Erdoğan’s personal inclinations or the religious sympathies of his party’s base, however important those may be.
This weekend Turkish-Israeli relations took another tumble. The Commander of Israeli Ground Forces Avi Mizrahi was quoted in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz as saying that Erdoğan “should look in the mirror” before he criticized Peres at Davos for “knowing very well how to kill”—words described by the newspaper as “a clear allusion to the massacre of the Armenians [in World War One] and the suppression of the Kurds.” Mizrahi added also that Turkey’s invasion of northern Cyprus deprives it of any basis by which to criticize Israel as an occupying power.
The following day, February 14, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Israel’s ambassador to Turkey and demanded an “urgent explanation” for General Mizrahi’s words. That same day the Turkish General Staff (headquarters pictured above) issued a statement declaring Mizrahi’s remarks to be factually distorting, inappropriate, unfortunate, unbefitting for someone of Mizrahi’s authority and responsibilities, and potentially damaging to the national interests of the two countries. The General Staff expects an explanation from the Israelis. The Israeli General Staff has said that Mizrahi’s remarks do not represent its own views.
Undoubtedly, strong incentives to preserve cooperation remain on both sides. Yet now with senior Turkish and Israeli generals on the verge of a public quarrel, cracks are appearing in the very lynchpin of Turkish-Israeli relations. Given the categorical nature of the assertions and demands being made by each side, the damage can be smoothed over, but it cannot be undone. Neither side can completely satisfy the other without backing down and backtracking in some form. And swallowing humble pie is something for which no military trains its officers.