Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Diplomatic Shot in the Foot

The Jerusalem Post's Herb Keinon has a good column looking at what the recent spat with Turkey will cost Israel in diplomatic and political terms. From Keinon's colum:
The end result: Turkey comes out looking like the victim, and Israel is forced to apologize, something Erdogan never did - even after very undiplomatically upbraiding President Shimon Peres last year in Davos, and then storming off the stage.

In addition, and perhaps most damagingly, ammunition was given to those in Turkey who - like Erdogan - want to distance Ankara from Jerusalem.

Erdogan is not a Turkish King Louis XIV: He is not the state. There are many inside Turkey - in the courts, the military, the civil service bureaucracy - who would like to see Turkey's sharp tone toward Israel change. The problem now is that it will be more difficult for those people to raise their voices.

For instance, if the military says that - for its own interests - it wants to begin warming the ties with Jerusalem, those - like Erdogan - who want to distance the relationship, can answer, "After they humiliated us?"

So if Ayalon knows the rules, why did he violate them so and, in the process, shoot Israel in the foot?

Two reasons: Politics, and an informality - the lack of distance - that exists here between leaders and the media.

First to politics. Ayalon is not only deputy foreign minister, a diplomat, but he is also an ambitious politician. On Monday the political Ayalon got the best of the diplomatic one.

As a politician, Ayalon is trying to make his mark on his party, Israel Beiteinu.

With Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman under the cloud of a prolonged police investigation and possible indictment, both the leadership of the party and the position of foreign minister may soon be up for grabs. What better way to gain credit in their party then to puff out his chest and stick it to Turks, especially after all the bile they have thrown in Israel's direction over the last year?

It may make for bad diplomacy, but it makes for great Israel Beiteinu politics.

And then there is the coziness with the press. It is hard to believe that Ayalon meant things to go this way. He did, of course, violate the norm by inviting the press to the dressing down. Once he saw the media there he likely just got carried away, viewed the cameraman as part of the hevra, and began to choreograph the scene: put Celikkol on the sofa, no smiles, no handshakes, only the Israeli flag on the table.

Ayalon thought he was talking to friends, the hevra. He forgot that the microphone was on and the cameras were rolling.
You can read the rest of the column here. I think Keinon makes a good point regarding Erdogan. Imagine if an Israeli leader spoke to Erdogan the way the Turkish PM spoke to Israeli President Shimon Peres at Davos? Over the past year, meanwhile, Erdogan's attitude towards Israel has become increasingly belligerent. As I have written before, Turkey is now taking a kind of "tough love" approach to Israel, keeping relations on a frosty level until there is some progress on the Palestinian front. But one gets the sense that with Erdogan this more a case of "soft hate" that is increasingly hardening. Despite its proximity to Turkey, Israel currently seems to be very much excluded from Ankara's vaunted "zero problems with neighbors" zone.

Today's Zaman's Andrew Finkel has an excellent (and quite funny) column in today's edition that touches on how Erdogan figures into the incident with the Turkish ambassador. From his column, entitled "Zero Problems with Furniture":
[The incident] was intended, too, as a thumbing of the nose to the Turkey’s prime minister. Mr. Erdo─čan has been a stern opponent of Israeli militarism, and while his criticism is clearly heartfelt and a luxury which some Western leaders may be envious of, he sometimes appears to enjoy the role just a little too much. He takes off the gloves when dealing with Israel, but in front of world opinion seems unconcerned about the “mere rumors” of Iran’s nuclear capability or Sudan’s behavior in Darfur. He courts Turkish public opinion and the approval of the Arab street (and shopping malls). The Israeli Foreign Ministry is now in the hands of a party which is unashamedly populist and unembarrassed about playing to his own public opinion, and now it would seem not afraid publicly to call Turkey’s bluff.
You can read the whole column here.


Hugh Pope said...

'Soft hate' - am going to have to find a way to quote your invention of an important new piece of foreign policy terminology!

Unknown said...

I cannot remember when Turkey apologized, it's simple not in their vocabulaire.
Yes, how Erdogan treated Peres was at least not so 'diplomatic'.
One thing many people don't understand; it's because Erdogan his behavior and political agenda that the EU keep Turkey on a distance. Let it be.