When Israel and Turkey Fight, the International Community Suffers

Relations between Ankara and Jerusalem have been on the rocks since about 2008. There was this incident. And this. And this.  Now, the raid of the Turkish-backed Gaza-bound flotilla which claimed the lives of four Turkish citizens have plunged Israeli-Turkish relations to a new low.  

The thing is, these countries used to be fairly reliable allies — particularly where their military was concerned. But ever since the Israeli military operation in Gaza in 2008, Israel-Turkey relations have entered a death spiral.  A number of interests are bound to suffer from this — the United Nations included. 

Think back to the summer of 2006.  Two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped by Hezbollah along the border of southern Lebanon. Israel responded with a massive mobilization in southern Lebanon and Hezbollah retaliated by launching rocket attacks into Israel.  There was heavy civilian damage–and despite Israel’s military prowess, it could not subdue the Hezbollah guerrilla force. 

About a month after the hostilities began, the security council negotiated a tenuous cease-fire.  Israel would not withdraw from Lebanon unless a relatively sophisticated international military force was to take its place.  France, Italy and Spain, agreed to deploy a force.  That was enough to satisfy Israel.  But for political reasons, the force would also need to include troops from Muslim countries.  The thing is, Israel, understandably, would object to the inclusion of troops from countries with which it did not share diplomatic ties. There are precious few countries that have are Muslim majority, have sophisticated militaries, and have ties with Israel. In that small club, Turkish peacekeepers are clearly the the prize. In August 2006,  then-Secretary General Kofi Annan traveled to Ankara to press Prime Minister Erdogan to send a peacekeeping contingent to Lebanon.  A few weeks later, Turkish naval and engineering units were en route to Lebanon.  With that political cover, the force, known as UNIFIL II was able to deploy.  There has not been a resumption of hostilities since. 

The 2006 Lebanon-Israel conflict seems like the distant past, but at the time it was incredibly destabilizing for the entire Middle east.  The Turkish-Israeli alliance, though, persevered and helped to stabilize the situation. With relations as frayed as they are today, it is hard to see that sort of thing happening again.  When Ankara and Jerusalem fight, the cause of international peace and security is bound to suffer.