Jonathan Tobin is absolutely right to dampen optimism regarding the restoration of Turkey-Israel ties following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apology for the botched interception of the Mavi Marmara. Make no mistake, the apology is a disaster. Not only will it not lead to a revival of Israel-Turkey ties, but it will—in the long run—make them worse. Netanyahu has affirmed Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s strategy. Wishful thinking—be it Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza or Ehud Barak’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon—does not bring peace so long as enemies believe that terrorism or, in Erdoğan’s case, its facilitation and his support, has paid dividends.
Erdoğan is a deeply ideological man who, at his core, does not believe Israel should exist. It is a mistake for Turkey-watchers to dismiss Erdoğan’s rants, most recently his description of Zionism as a crime against humanity, as merely posturing for his central Anatolian base. Projection is perhaps the most corrosive mistake in which any analyst can engage. Incitement is not simply a strategy; sometimes, it truly is heartfelt. Just as with Yasir Arafat. And Khaled Meshaal. And Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And Mohammad Khatami. And Kim Jong-un.
Erdoğan’s temper-tantrums may make him look like a buffoon in Western eyes, but he is a man deeply consumed by a sense of grievance. This is why he has sued political cartoonists for little more sin than depicting him as a cat tangled in a ball of string. Stacked courts ensure he wins his cases, and bolster his sense of righteousness. Every time he engages in brinkmanship, he finds himself rewarded.
What’s next in Turkey-Israel relations? Certainly not rapprochement. By paying compensation to the families of those killed on the Mavi Marmara, Netanyahu is effectively funding terrorists. The Mavi Marmara had one purpose: supplying Hamas. After all, the health of Gazans is generally better than that of Turks. The Turkish press is arguing that the lifting of the Gaza blockade—irrespective of Hamas’ actions—is now looming.
What’s Erdoğan’s next step? He has announced that he will soon go to Gaza during which trip he will renew his calls for lifting the blockade and enjoy Hamas treating him like a conquering hero. Already, the Palestinian Authority is nervous over how Erdoğan might bolster its terrorist brethren. Make no mistake: It’s not just Obama to blame for what comes next. Netanyahu could always have said no.