Turkey appointed a new ambassador to Israel in early October in what is a long overdue step towards establishing full diplomatic relations between the two nations. After having met with Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, just a few weeks ago, I am not surprised. Erdoğan seemed sincere in his commitment to improving ties between Turkey, the United States and Israel, and I came away with ideas on how to build it.
Americans are divided in their assessments of Turkey and Erdoğan. Two views predominate — the optimistic and the pessimistic — and I’m sure Israelis fall into similar camps.
Michael Doran of the Hudson Institute represents the optimists. He argues that the current problems are temporary and fixable, so long as one sufficiently considers Turkey’s self-interests. Eventually, Turkey will align itself with Western nations because its objective circumstances require this.
Its economy is tied to the West, it fears Russian domination, and its population is oriented to Europe. Much of the departments of state and defense agree with this analysis.
Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum represents the pessimists. He argues that Erdoğan’s Turkey has made a fundamental move away from the United States, NATO and the West as a whole. He views Erdoğan as an ideologue intent on building an Islamist order — one in which Islamic law makes the rules and a caliph governs — and who sees non-Muslims as tactical allies at best. The U.S. Congress overwhelmingly subscribes to this viewpoint.
I know and respect both views but subscribe to neither. Instead, I am seeking a way beyond them.
The problems are serious and growing. They include Turkey’s aggression against the U.S.-aligned Kurdish forces in Syria; incursions into Iraq; threats against the Republic of Cyprus; purchases of Russian weapons systems; conspiratorial rhetoric against Americans; rank antisemitism; a frightening turn away from democracy; and persistent propaganda that has turned many Turks against the United States.
There is also much good to report. Turkey provided drones to Ukraine that helped materially in its war effort against Russia, helped broker the deal to export Ukrainian food stuffs and supports Azerbaijan in its hostilities against Armenia, a Russian and Iranian ally.
Moreover, Turkey provided intelligence that prevented an Iranian assassination of visiting Israelis and expelled some Hamas operatives from Turkish territory as part of a general warming with Israel. This warming led to the resumption of full diplomatic ties, including the exchanging of ambassadors and the first visit to Turkey by an Israeli head of state in 15 years.
Drawing on my experience working in the background to advance the Abraham Accords, I see a path to a fresh start by building on the positives in U.S.-Turkey-Israel relations. These are not simple or quick, but they are possible.
After all, Ankara needs the United States and Israel to help it emerge from its economic downturn. Washington and Israel would benefit from Turkey for a host of security reasons.
First, Erdoğan must shift Turkey’s approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It should, in effect, become a partner in the Abraham Accords. As trade between Israel and Turkey is already flourishing, this should not be difficult. It does mean, among other steps, completely ending Turkey’s partnership with Hamas and ending the vile Judeophobia coming from Turkish politicians and media.
Second, the United States and Turkey need to get serious about working out a compromise in Syria, so that their troops and allies do not fight each other. Washington needs to provide guarantees about its Kurdish allies; Ankara needs to stop targeting them.
Third, a reassertion of the rule of law within Turkey would greatly improve American confidence and attitudes toward the Erdoğan government. The release from prison of two unjustly held men would do wonders to signal this return: Selahattin Demirtaş, former co-chair of the People’s Democratic Party, and Osman Kavala, a Turkish human-rights activist, should be freed immediately.
Steps like these will make it much easier for the already eager departments of state and defense to convince a very reluctant congress to recalibrate its approach towards Turkey.
I have seen for myself that President Erdoğan is a strong and proud Turkish leader. He acknowledged to me his belief that Turkey’s best interests require him to take steps that bring peace, stability and wealth to his country — and that stronger ties with the United States and Israel would be instrumental in this effort. JN
Harley Lippman is the CEO of Genesis10, a top 20 U.S. IT consulting company. He serves as a member of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage, on the Dean’s Advisory Board at Columbia University’s Graduate School of International and Public Affairs, and as a board member on USAID’s Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace.