Thursday, September 20, 2012

Turkey Blows Hot and Cold: Our Publication on Israel-Turkey Relations in the 1960s

On 13 December 1964 Zeev Shek, director of the Western European division in the Foreign Ministry, wrote to Moshe Sasson, the Israeli minister in Ankara, about Turkish-Israeli relations as he saw them, summing up: "The Turks want everything from us. They see the fact that they are kind enough to accept [what we give] – as a sufficient reward, and are not willing to give us anything more. This attitude does not arise, God forbid, from lack of love for us, but more from the desire not to lose what might be lost from the Arabs".
Shek's letter is a good description of the frustration of Israel's policy makers and diplomats. Despite Israel's efforts to normalize relations, Turkey preferred to keep a low profile. As a Muslim state in the Middle East, which needed Arab support, particularly in the Cyprus conflict which dominated Turkish foreign policy from 1964 onwards, it was reluctant to raise the level of relations.
This is just one aspect of the tapestry making up Israel's relations with Turkey to be found in our latest publication on Israel-Turkey relations, 1961-1967, edited by a veteran diplomat who served there himself, Baruch Gilead. 314 documents tell the story, most of them in Hebrew. 22 documents or appendixes are in English, and seven in French. . There is a list of documents in English with a summary of the contents, and an English introduction.
For the last couple of years Israel's relations with Turkey have been in crisis. The documents show that even then relations were subject to sharp swings, and were at the mercy of the Turkish leaders, who would warm them up or cool them down as they saw fit. Sometimes pragmatic considerations were dominant. Turkey had an interest in economic cooperation with Israel, in trade and particularly in Israeli assistance in development. The two countries were also both enemies of Nasser's Egypt. Thus in March 1963  Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion wrote to his Turkish counterpart Ismet Inönü, expressing his satisfaction over the Turkish decision to raise the level of relations to that of ambassadors – satisfaction which proved to be premature. In fact, this was not done until 1991.
When relations were good Turkish government ministers visited Israel. These invitations also resulted in some misunderstandings, as when the title of the visiting Turkish minister was wrongly translated and he was received by the minister of agriculture, Moshe Dayan, instead of Housing Minister Joseph Almogi. (Doc. No. 115). Subsequently both ministers were invited to Turkey. Cooperation in economic development reached a height in 1964.
But ties proved fragile when Turkish interests required improved relations with the Arabs and greater consideration for pro-Islamic elements in Turkey itself. Turkey wanted Israel to adopt a pro-Turkish policy in Cyprus while Israel preferred to remain neutral. In August 1964 an apparently harmless reply by Israeli President Zalman Shazar to an appeal from President Makarios of Cyprus, expressing Shazar's regret at the bloodshed resulting from the dispute between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, led to a major crisis in relations. Turkey also needed the votes of the Arab states at the U.N. debates on Cyprus, and Israel paid the price.

UN troops on duty in Nicosia, from our publication on Israel-Cyprus relations
 In 1965 relations continued to decline and were in fact frozen.  The tone of Sasson's reports became sharper, even describing the Turkish ministers as unreliable and misleading.
Nevertheless, Turkey did not break with Israel. This was particularly notable in the spring and summer of 1967, during the crisis period which preceded the Six Day War, the war itself and its aftermath. Despite Arab pressure, Turkey continued to maintain diplomatic ties and remained neutral. Although its votes in the General Assembly were not always favourable to Israel, Turkish Prime Minister Demirel declared that Turkey's position was neutral or even pro-Israeli.
These are only a few examples of the wealth of information in the publication, shedding light on the complex nature of Israel's relations with Turkey, then and now.  

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