Friday, January 15, 2010

Israel's Diplomatic Humiliation of Turkey Garners Mixed Reactions

The "pages" of the major Israeli online media sources are filled today with opinion and reporting on the recent humiliation of the Turkish Ambassador to Israel and the subsequent series of apologies issued by Israel.

Some of these articles highlight the apologies made by Israel and the statements made by individuals like Israeli President Peres who seems emphatic that this sort of humiliation was not the way Israel conducted its diplomacy. Others more forcefully opined that the author of the embarrassment, Ayalon, should resign for having caused the tension and having given the Israeli diplomatic corps the black eye they he did.

Some articles are unapologetic. For example, Ayalon himself is convinced that his actions will change the tone of Turkish rhetoric about Israel, especially that of the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. Erdogan has been a particularly vocal and harsh critic of Israel and seems to prefer to cool, rather than warm, relations between his country and Israel. This naive approach, which the Israeli foreign ministry itself disagrees with assumes that now that Erdogan realizes how Israel really feels about insults he will tone down his language. This is frankly a ridiculous proposition as it has changed Israel from the aggrieved party to the offending one. Erdogan, and other diplomatic opponents of Israel, have a whole new realm in which they can criticise (and with good reason) Israeli behaviour. How does Ayalon think Israeli diplomats will now be received? How does he think foreign diplomats in Israel will interact with the foreign ministry? Certainly feelings of trust and friendliness will not be reinforced.

Others writing in support of the humiliation argue that given the harsh rhetoric from Ankara against Israel, and given that the episode in question was meant to express concern over an offensive Turkish television programme, Israel should show more self confidence and not worry about offending those that have offended it. Still, a weak argument. This is a question of how Israel conducts its relations and how it seeks to achieve its diplomatic goals. For a deputy foreign minister to behave this way seems to--but hopefully does not really--speak to a rot in the effectiveness of Israeli diplomacy. As the old cliche goes, one catches more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Some of the articles also point to domestic political considerations as the real reasons behind the spectacle of senior diplomats from Israel humiliating those of another country. For example, given that the deputy foreign minister is one of the parties forming the Israeli government, he needs to consider his domestic audience, and the opposition has called him on playing with Israel's strategic position for cheap domestic points. Points that probably were not scored.

The point is also made of the fine line that Israel needs to walk with Turkey. This line is balancing taking a firm position in response to the harsh criticism it faces from Turkish officials, but in so doing, remaining cautious about offending the Turkish people, with whom the Israeli people have generally close ties. The act of humiliating a Turkish envoy, which is receiving media play all over the world, and undoubtedly in Turkey, could jeopardize these important ties and place the Turkish population firmly behind its government in the adoption of a harsh stance on Israel. Still though, all is not lost. Official ties between Israel and Turkey continue and deals, such as the one for military drones, move forward.

Time will be the judge as to how much this incident really hurts Israeli-Turkish relations and indeed on the reception and effectiveness of Israeli diplomacy in the future.


Lady-Light said...

Agreed. What Ayalon did was childish and immature, and not befitting of an Israeli Ambassador.
Can you imagine Abba Eban doing something like this?
Danny Ayalon lost face for Israel (no matter what hard line Turkey was taking--that doesn't justify his behavior), and he should resign.

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