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World News and Trends: The Turkish-Israel dilemma

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World News and Trends

The Turkish-Israel dilemma

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Turkey and Israel have generally enjoyed mutually beneficial diplomatic relations ever since Israel became a new nation in 1948. Last year that relationship hit some rapids. Stated The New York Times: "A multinational air force exercise that was supposed to take place in Turkey has been postponed indefinitely after the Turks asked Israel not to participate, officials said Sunday, in a sign of the strained relations between the two allies" (Oct. 12, 2009, emphasis added throughout).

Then came the unwelcome news of "a war of words ignited by a new Turkish TV series depicting Israeli military atrocities" ("TV Show Deepens Split Between Israel and Turkey," The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 19, 2009). The plotline of this popular action drama is fictional but cast Israel in this light as supposedly reflective of reality.

This unfortunate incident shook "what is probably Israel's strongest partnership in the Middle East...The two countries have long had strong diplomatic and trade relations, and Turkey has been a substantial buyer of Israeli military hardware. For years Israeli pilots trained in Turkish airspace" (ibid.).

Financial Times columnist Philip Stephens pointed out that "ignoring anxieties in Western capitals [not to mention Israel], Turkey has engaged with the Palestinian Hamas and with the Iranian-sponsored Hizbollah in Lebanon" (Oct. 23, 2009). Also Turkey has opened its border to Syria, a nation typically hostile to the West, offering Syrians visa-free travel.

Since becoming prime minister in 2003, Recep Erdogan has slowly but steadily shifted Turkey's orientation from the West (the country being a member of the NATO alliance and a candidate to join the European Union) toward its Muslim neighbors to the east—including such unsavory players as Iran and Syria.

Considering recent trends in Turkey and the Islamic world, Israel's hope for restoring close relations with Turkey may be past the point of no return. The rest of the West can only hope that Turkey, with its vast resources and 77 million population, retains its secular character and doesn't adopt the hardline fundamentalist Islam of its neighbors. (Sources: The New York Times, Financial Times [London], The Wall Street Journal.)