ISTANBUL, TURKEY — Israel and Turkey’s once-close ties have entered a frosty period in recent years, particularly since Israel’s invasion of Gaza this past January.
But ties between the two countries took a further dive this week after Turkey indefinitely postponed annual military exercises because of Israel’s planned involvement.
Israeli officials this week also expressed outrage over a new drama series being shown on Turkish state television that shows Israeli soldiers mercilessly killing Palestinians, including one scene of a soldier shooting a young girl at point blank range.
Observers say the new tension between the two countries may be another indication that Turkey’s changing domestic and foreign policy considerations are leading to a redefinition of the country’s relationship with Israel.
“In Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s ideological framework, Israel doesn’t play a central role. Things have changed,” says Ofra Bengio, an expert on Turkey at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University.
Ankara, for the past few years, has actively sought to establish itself as a kind of regional soft-power broker, working to strengthen relations with neighbors that it has previously kept at an arm’s length, most notably Syria and Iran, both of which flank its eastern border. Turkey also inked an agreement with Armenia last week that will move the two long-hostile countries toward renewed diplomatic ties.
Mr. Davutoglu – the main architect of this new foreign policy – and 10 other ministers visited Syria on Oct. 13 for the first meeting of a newly created “Strategic Cooperation Council” and to sign an agreement doing away with visa requirements between the two countries.
This change reflects a fundamental shift from the period when Turkey and Israel began developing their strategic relationship. At the time, the two looked at countries like Syria as a common threat. Turkey and Syria almost went to war in the late 1990s after Ankara accused Damascus of supporting the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
But observers say that domestic changes in Turkey, particularly the diminishing power of the military, are also playing a role in the changing nature of Turkey and Israel’s relationship.
“Had it been up to the military, the exercise would have continued as planned, but the military can’t dictate its policies on the government the way it used to,” says Lale Kemal, a military affairs analyst based Ankara. “The equation is changing. We see this in other areas and in the Turkish-Israeli relationship also.”