Once upon a time, there existed a strong “alliance of the periphery” in Israeli foreign policy. When the Arab World remained hostile to the existence of a resurrected Jewish state, Jerusalem sought alliances with other groups and countries threatened by pan-Arab Nationalism. The Kurds, along with Turkey, Iran, and Ethiopia, were the prime allies of Israel in the region. However, things have changed immensely. Israel’s fiercest Arab foes, Syria and Iraq, have ceased to be countries and are little more than battlefields for foreign fighters. Libya and Yemen, too, have self-destructed. Egypt and Jordan have peace treaties with Israel, and the remaining countries (bar Lebanon and Qatar) have tacit alliances with the Jewish state. On the other hand, Turkey has become one of the major sources of instability in the Middle East and beyond. It funds and encourages radicalism in Europe’s mosques and many of its immigrant Muslim communities. It bombards Kurdish freedom fighters in Iraq & Syria despite their heroic campaign to liberate the world from the stain of jihadism. It continues to deny the Armenian Genocide, obstruct peace in Cyprus, discriminate against its indigenous Kurdish population, and violate Greek sovereignty.
Ever since the rise to power of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the current Turkish President, the country has shifted away from its historic secular Kemalist nature and moved into an Axis of Islamism, together with Qatar. Despite its vocal support for Palestinian terror, its increasing anti-Western rhetoric, and its growing cooperation with Iran & Russia in Syria, Israel has joined European countries and the United States in maintaining a normal relationship with an irrational government. While there are indeed economic ties with Turkey that have been used as justification for the continuation of the relationship, there’s ample reason to believe that such ties could actually harm Jerusalem in the long-run. Moreover, Israel’s relationship with Turkey has historically aroused suspicion amongst others in the region, including Turkey’s Kurds, Greece, Cyprus, and Armenia. All of these countries or groups would make more natural partners and allies of Israel, having shared economic interests, similar histories, or relatively warm attitudes, historically, towards the Jews. All of these countries, like Israel, are former colonies of the Ottoman Empire, and have no desire for imperial expansion. By contrast, Turkey’s history is one of a conquering people stealing land from indigenous groups and butchering or displacing them. Today’s Turkish government sees Ottoman imperialism as something that must be restored—and that includes Jerusalem and the rest of Israel.
If Israel truly wants to see a change of behavior from Turkey and also roll back its colonial ambitions, it needs to pressure the West to condition ties on its government’s practices, rhetoric, and use of force. Merely threatening to recognize the Armenian Genocide ever few years, or vocally supporting Kurdish fighters, isn’t good enough, especially if there is no follow-through. If Turkey continues hosting Hamas leaders and sending money or arms to Gaza, Israel needs to respond in kind by inviting members of the YPG to Jerusalem and assisting them with intelligence and weapons to roll back Turkish-backed jihadists in Syria. If Turkey claims Israel is committing “genocide” by protecting its borders, it should remind the world what genocide is by recognizing the one in 1915. While Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries in the Gulf are modernizing, Turkey seems all too willing to step into the vacuum as a sponsor of jihadist violence that should’ve been left behind with the crushing of ISIS. If it is unwilling to do so, Israel can find partnerships and business interests with other regional countries. The way things currently stand, there is little reason for a continued relationship between Ankara and Jerusalem, and the two countries have almost nothing in common besides being developed, non-Arab countries in the Middle East. If that changes one day, relations should be warmed and welcomed. But for the time being, this toxic “alliance” needs to go into the dustbin of history.