Turkish army attacks Syrian Jarablus Wednesday, Aug. 23.
Turkey – in full momentum since the Erdogan-Putin summit on Aug. 9 – is setting a rapid pace for its rapprochement with Israel. Saturday, Aug. 20, the Turkish parliament ratified the reconciliation agreement Ankara signed with Jerusalem and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced that ambassadors would be exchanged soon.
There is even mention of Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan visiting Israel in September.
Both Ankara and Jerusalem are quickly moving on from their sharp exchange of recriminations this week, over the massive IDF military retaliation against Hamas Sunday and Monday for a missile fired from the Gaza Strip.
Israel harshly reproved Turkey for its condemnation, as hardly in a position to interfere in another government’s response to terrorism.
Erdogan uncharacteristically held silent and let Israel have the last word..
Erdogan and Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are clearly of one mind that nothing should be allowed to hinder their burying of the hatchet.
In today's Middle East’s crazy slalom of events, whereby every few hours, new conflicts spring up and new deals are forged – only to end in tatters a couple of days later (e.g. Tehran’s abrupt reversal of its permission to allow the Russia an air base in Western Iran), bilateral realpolitik is bound to be the order of the day.
Yesterday's enemy might be today's friend, and today's friend might become tomorrow's enemy.
The mercurial Turkish president initiated a series of earthshaking moves in the past two weeks:
- He rid the strategic southern Turkish Incirlik base of the US nuclear arsenal, and is keeping the future of US warplanes there for operations in Syria up in the air, amid talk of opening the base for the use of the Russian air force.
- Joined Russia and Iran to establish a new Middle East alliance.
- Opened a direct line of communication from Ankara to Syria's Bashar Assad. Turkish MIT Secret Service director Hakan Fidan paid a visit to Damascus.
Working with Israel therefore did not stop the Turkish leader from going after a deal with the Syrian ruler at the same time.
- Erdogan plans a visit to Tehran for a grand friendship photo op with Iranian leaders with the same fanfare as his summit with Vladimir Putin.
- That summit which ended in an accord to prevent the Kurds from gaining independence in Syria and Iraq let Ankara off the leash for an all out offensive against the YPG Syrian Kurdish army in northern Syria.
- Wednesday, Aug. 24, the Turkish army crossed the border to attack ISIS strongholds in the border town of Jarablus, so intervening in the Syrian conflict to block the Kurdish assault on the jihadists.
- Ankara has also stepped up its interference with Egyptian and Saudi policies in the Middle East.
How does the Turkish leader reconcile his contradictory polices?
On the one hand he initiates open friendship with Israel while, at the same time, forging alliances with its enemies in Tehran, Damascus and Gaza. How does Israel perceive Ankara’s hostile steps against its friends and allies, the Americans, Egyptians, Saudi and Kurds?
The wily Erdogan appears to believe that he can use his friendship with Israel as a fig leaf. Whenever the US or others chastise him for his negative actions, he can point out that even Israel goes along with his policies.
As for Netanyahu, he appears to have taken a leaf out of President Barack Obama’s Middle East book.
In the face of all Erdogan’s provocations and betrayals, Obama goes overboard to hold Washington’s line to Ankara in place and hold Turkey back from irrevocably quitting NATO.
To do just that, he even sent Vice President Joe Biden to Ankara Wednesday, Aug. 24.
As a global power, the US can afford to look the other way when Erdogan goes over the top, even though it is hard to see where he is going.
Israel, on the other hand, can’t afford to let itself be used as Erdogan’s alibi, without damaging its precious ties with Washington and risk impairing the understandings Netanyahu has been able to develop with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It would be a mistake to try and isolate the relationship with Ankara as a purely bilateral issue without expecting a backlash on Israel’s other ties.