Gloomy assessments that Turkey’s diplomatic offensive is isolating Israel makes for nice gloomy groupthink among North American columnists — today, Roger Cohen beats that drum. But a look at some articles from eastern Mediterranean papers suggests that Israel isn’t so “isolated” after all.
Turkey’s demand for an Israeli apology and claims of defending the Mediterranean from “Israeli bullying” are looking more and more like an excuse to muscle in on valuable offshore reserves. Cyprus agreed on maritime boundaries with Israel (which Lebanon objects to) and notably obtained Jerusalem’s support in its own maritime dispute with Turkey.
Consider what Turkish sources are telling Turkish media.
In exhibit A, Hurriyet writes:
Using Turkish naval vessels to escort ships carrying aid to Palestine and observing free navigation in the zone between the island of Cyprus and Israel are among the plans set to be implemented, sources said, adding that Turkish war ships would be more frequently seen in the area.
The zone described by Turkish sources has been the subject of a recent diplomatic struggle between Turkey and Greek Cyprus over the latter’s project to start drilling natural gas reserves. Greek Cyprus and Israel recently agreed to jointly initiate the drilling with the participation of some American companies.
Turkey sees the gas-exploration deal as an agreement between two hostile countries against Turkey and has urged both parties not to get involved in such a project before a solution is found to the Cyprus issue in order to preserve the stability of the eastern Mediterranean.
Which brings us to exhibit B. In a Q&A with Today’s Zaman, Turkish diplomat Egemen Ba??? warned Greek Cypriots not to explore for offshore oil in Turkey’s territorial waters.
Greek Cyprus has declared that it will begin oil exploration in the Mediterranean on Oct. 1. Can you comment on this?
The kinds of things that have happened in the past [Turkish naval interference with exploration] whenever the Greek Cypriots have made such attempts may well happen again. That is how serious Turkey is. Doing this in waters where they have no jurisdiction is illegal. Turkey will rely on international law to pursue its rights to the fullest extent.
Will the navy send a fleet?
This is what we have the navy for. We have trained our marines for this; we have equipped the navy for this. All options are on the table; anything can be done.
The Cypriot reply was the diplomatic equivalent of “butt-out.”
So it’s worth asking if Turkey’s just using the Palestinian cause as an excuse to bully it’s way into untapped Mediterranean reserves worth billions.
Another indication that the Jewish state isn’t really so “isolated” is the emerging relationship with Greece. On Sunday, Panos Beglitis became the first Greek defense minister to visit Israel. He already signed a security cooperation memorandum.
Lord Palmerston brilliantly expressed a political axiom when he said:
“Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.”
Simplistically, a realignment of common interests is like a game of musical chairs. Nobody wants to be left standing when the music stops. I’d like to see Israel-Turkey relations return to their former warmth, but I’m not holding my breath. Turkey’s a pushier player now, but Israel has friends in the game too.