BY MAX HELLER
Published February 28, 2013
Next week, John Kerry, the recently confirmed U.S. Secretary of State, will embark on his maiden overseas trip. During the trip, he will visit nine countries in 10 days throughout Europe and the Middle East. Among the countries he will visit are two that are critical to long-term stability in the Middle East: Turkey and Egypt. The two countries are major power players and currently sit at a crossroads in their diplomatic relations with Israel — the United States’ central ally in the region. During his trip, Kerry should work hard to set the stage for improved relations between these two countries and Israel in order to serve the best interests of those who desire long-term stability in the region.
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Kerry will be visiting Turkey, which has experienced frosty diplomatic relations with Israel ever since the Turkish-supported Gaza Flotilla incident in May 2010, in which radical anti-Israel extremists and terrorist members attacked Israeli soldiers. While Israel has since made efforts to normalize relations with Turkey, those efforts have been largely rebuffed by the nation and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In advance of Kerry’s visit, Israel has recently sent Turkey several signals that it hopes to push their diplomatic relationship in a more positive and productive direction.
Israeli defense firm Elta recently decided to deliver $100 million of equipment for Turkish Airborne Warning and Control Systems. This equipment will enable Turkey to better defend itself against airborne threats through the radar system that it provides. By sending over this equipment, Israel signals that it supports Turkey’s efforts to protect itself from threats to its national security. Additionally, Israel has recently offered to lay a natural gas pipeline through Turkey to Europe. This pipeline would surely provide longterm economic benefits to Turkey and could very well be lucrative for both countries. However, the Turks have yet to respond to this offer. If Kerry can convince Turkey to accept Israel’s pipeline offer as a signal that they hope to work towards positive and mutually beneficial relations, it would be a huge step in the right direction for the region.
In Egypt, Kerry approaches a slightly more complicated situation. Still dealing with the after-effects of a revolution during the Arab Spring, Egypt’s internal politics and power structure are hardly stable. As a result, it may be difficult to convince Egyptian leadership to make any long-term decisions regarding foreign affairs. Kerry can work to establish a sounder Egypt by promoting rule of law and respect for human rights with government officials. Such efforts will further legitimize Egypt’s current regime and enable them more flexibility to take on ambitious efforts in foreign affairs. A stronger Egypt will hopefully be empowered to promote the rule of law along the Gaza border, which could vastly improve Israel’s long-term outlook for peace. While Egypt and Israel have seen their relationship become more complicated since an Islamist government was elected in Egypt, whose leader has been recorded delivering anti-Semitic rants, they still share a mutual interest in promoting the rule of law. In Egypt, these efforts will better the Morsi regime’s grip on power internally, and in Israel, they will go a long way toward providing stronger national security.
Kerry has a long list of priorities during his first trip overseas. He will also be meeting with critical U.S. allies such as Germany and Saudi Arabia during his trip, and must build his relationship with diplomats in those nations as well. However, his visits to Turkey and Egypt can and should set the stage for a joint pursuit of long-term stability in the Middle East.
Max Heller is a Business senior.