In recent weeks, top Israeli officials have made it increasingly clear that they are willing to extend an olive branch and engage in civil diplomacy with adversarial parties in the Middle East. Israel’s recent offer and dispersal of humanitarian aid to Turkey in response to a 7.2-magnitude earthquake in late October is only the latest example of Israel’s sense of responsibility for the health and safety of all people, not just Israelis. However, when such altruism is met with indifference or even hostility by the very people to whom Israel extended the hand of friendship, it only serves to cast more doubts on Turkey’s seriousness as a true partner in the Middle East peace process.
In the case of the international response to the recent earthquake in Turkey, Israel was among the first countries to offer aid and disaster relief. However, Turkey rejected Israel’s first several offers of aid before finally deciding to accept it — claiming a miscalculation of the level of devastation was responsible for the initial denial. Even still, Turkey has only accepted limited Israeli aid in the form of temporary structures designed to provide refuge to the earthquake’s survivors, but has continued to refuse Israeli offers to assist in the search and rescue efforts to save victims from the wreckage. Why did Turkey choose to further endanger the lives of its own imperiled citizens by rejecting help that could be the difference between life and death for many trapped Turks? Is Turkey really choosing to maintain tensions with Israel over rescuing earthquake victims and mending a broken friendship? It seems that way: The Turkish government recently announced that Israel’s generous relief efforts do nothing to ease the diplomatic tension that has existed between the two countries for the last 18 months.
While Israel has shown itself to be a willing provider of relief to humanitarian crises all over the world, including Haiti and Japan, Turkey presumes that in offering to provide for the basic needs of Turkish people beset by tragic circumstances, Israel has ulterior motives. Indeed, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan felt the need last week to reassert his support for United Nations economic sanctions against Israel, complaining that “the UN Security Council has issued more than 89 resolutions on prospective sanctions against Israel, but they’ve never been executed.” Erdogan’s reiteration of support for such sanctions underscores the illogical Turkish paranoia that exists surrounding Israel’s offer of disaster relief.
Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has strongly stated that he considers Israel’s tenuous relationship with the Turkish government to be immaterial in issuing critical aid to the Turkish people afflicted by a natural disaster. Turkey’s regrettable unwillingness to place any value on easing diplomatic tensions with Israel, a country that has displayed a willingness to come to their aid and engage in normalized relations time and time again, does not leave much hope for Turkey as a member of a successful Middle Eastern peace process.
With every passing day, the Turkish government’s constant allusion to the Flotilla incident in May 2010 as rationale for escalating tensions between the two nations looks more like an excuse to remain indifferent and disengaged than a legitimate claim of offense. Turkey’s public refusal to normalize relations with Israel is yet another slap in the face to the idea that Israel’s adversaries are willing to reasonably negotiate and broker a long-term regional peace. Instead, they would rather continue to stigmatize isolated incidents. Israel has made clear time and again that it can and will make overtures to other regimes in the Middle East in order to lay the foundation for long-term peace. Unfortunately, it seems that the Israelis, yet again, are among the only ones ready to build.
Max Heller is a junior in the Ross School of Business.