While I am not a fan of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, he was correct when, earlier this month, he warned Israeli political figures against apologizing to Turkey. Those who want to find a formula by which to apologize to Turkey say the importance of the Israel-Turkey relationship must trump any distaste about an apology, the issuance of which would be unjust.
The realist arguments of the pro-apology crowd misunderstand realism. No doubt, a strong Turkey-Israel relationship would be good for Israel. It was good while it lasted. A decade ago, Turkey acted on principle. Both Turkey and Israel were democratic. Turks had special affinity for the Jewish state. While Turkey today might be as much a driver of anti-Semitism as Saudi Arabia and Iran, prior to the rise of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Turks appreciated the Jews both for their contributions at Gallipoli and because they were the one component of the Ottoman Empire who never rebelled.
Turkey has changed, however. Even if we put aside the Turkish prime minister’s anti-Semitism, Turkey seeks to have zero problems among its neighbors. With neighbors such as Syria and Iran, however, zero problems means accepting antagonism toward the Jewish state. Nor would anything Israel could do or say ever match the $30 billion trade with Iran which Turkey now seeks. Turkey wishes to court Iran and the Arab world, and it is willing to do this at the expense of Israel, no matter what Israel does. Any Israeli apology would not alter the balance and would simply put Israel deeper down into a hole.
Israel makes the same mistake in its approach to China. While Israel bends over backwards to court China as a hedge against Chinese outreach to Iran, Syria, and Israel’s other mortal enemies, when it comes to appeasing China, the Israeli government is simply fulfilling a Sisyphean role. The Chinese government is cold, calculating, and guided by its pocket book, not by principle. No amount of fulfillment of Chinese demands, especially on the technology front, will ever change Chinese behavior. When push comes to shove, China will always side with Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Syria. It will drop Israel like a hot potato if it means the promise of a better oil deal with even a tiny Arab regime.
Rather than apologizing or trying to ingratiate itself to dictatorships, Israel must recognize reality: Its diplomatic efforts would be better guided to solidifying its relationships with democracies and other states who share its values. Israel could do much more to court Taiwan, India, and could finally exploit the mystique it holds in countries like Korea and even Indonesia. Kissing up to hostile countries is never going to be a sound basis for Israeli security, nor is a headlong quest to live in the past ever wise.