Could Israel and Turkey go to war?
Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaks during a news conference in Ankara on September 2, 2011. Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador to Ankara on September 2 and suspended all military ties with its one-time ally after a UN report condemned excessive force used by Israel on a Gaza aid flotilla. (Getty Images)
September 8th, 2011
08:30 PM ET

Could Israel and Turkey go to war?

Editor's Note: Soner Cagaptay is a Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and is the co-author, with Scott Carpenter, ofRegenerating the U.S.-Turkey Partnership.

By Soner Cagaptay - Special to CNN

The Arab Spring and recent dramatic deterioration of Turkish-Israeli ties present Israel with a uniquely threatening security environment.  Since 1949, Israel has always had the comfort of having Turkey, one of the two major Levantine powers, as its friend. This is no longer the case. In fact, conflict seems to be looming between Turkey and Israel.

In the aftermath of the 2010 Flotilla Incident, Ankara attempted to intimidate Israel by saying its warships would escort missions to Gaza. Now Turkey and Israel are at dangerously opposing ends of Levantine politics. Not only is Ankara no longer a trusted friend of Israel, but it has also begun to emerge as the key regional actor opposing Israel.

When Turkey became the first Muslim-majority country to recognize Israel in 1949, Israel took comfort in the fact that it had the backing of one of the Middle East's most influential players. The strength of the Turkish military allowed it to become and remain a friend of Israel despite Islamist opposition to it.

Following the Camp David Treaty in 1978, Israel established a cold peace with Egypt, bringing the second major Levantine power closer to its side.  Whereas in the 1960s Nasser’s Egypt represented the center of opposition to Israel in the region, Cairo ceased to pose a threat to Israel in the wake of Camp David. This security environment is all but gone.

For starters, Turkey has become like the old Egypt under Nasser - positioning itself as the regional center of opposition to Israel. Meanwhile, Egypt is becoming like the old Turkey.  The outcome of the forthcoming Egyptian elections is far from certain.  Yet it is very likely that the Muslim Brotherhood will emerge as a power to be reckoned with in the Egyptian polls this fall. Even if the Egyptian military stands for maintaining ties with Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood will push for limiting those ties.  Accordingly, Egyptian-Israeli ties will continue to become more cold and tenuous with each passing day.

For the first time, the two major states of the Eastern Mediterranean are aligning against Israel. This is the most important shift in Levantine politics since Camp David or even since 1949 when Turkey recognized Israel. This new balance is a serious threat for Israel, which must now consider an increasingly hostile Turkey and an ever colder and unfriendly Egypt when it evaluates its security environment.

Yet, the new balance carries risks for Turkey, too.  Ankara’s September 8th announcement that its warships will escort new flotillas to Gaza bears the potential of armed conflict between Turkey and Israel. What if the Israelis decide to stop the next Turkish navy-escorted flotilla as they stopped the Turkish-backed flotilla in 2010?  Will the Turkish navy ships choose to react? As chilling as this scenario sounds, it is not unlikely.  If the two countries fail to slow the escalating situation, they could well find themselves in conflict.

The specter of conflict also hangs over gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean.  Turkey objects to Israel’s desire to drill in its exclusive economic zone in the Mediterranean Sea largely because it hopes to block the Greek Cypriots from having the precedent of an exclusive economic zone in which they could drill for gas to the detriment of the Turkish Cypriots.  The latest escalation between Turkey and Israel might just pour oil on the political flames of gas exploration in the Mediterranean Sea.

Perhaps Ankara is only bluffing to bring Israel to its knees, and perhaps the Israelis would rather let Turkish navy-escorted flotillas sail to Gaza than risk regional war.  But one thing is clear: The Arab Spring and the Turkish-Israeli Winter are churning up the Mediterranean.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of  Soner Cagaptay.

Post by:
Topics: Foreign Policy • Israel • Middle East • Security • Turkey

soundoff (201 Responses)
  1. Majav

    Someone told me that Israel with seven million people gets more aid from the USA than the State of Hawaii. Is that true?

    September 12, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Reply
  2. Mike

    The people who attacked the Israeli embassy didn't chant "long live Palestine", they said "we want to destroy Israel". That is the Arab street, its views. It's very simple, the common arab in Turkey or in Egypt has been brainwashed by the religious leaders to blaim everything bad on Israel. Long live Israel!

    September 12, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Reply
    • Cataln

      there are no arabs in turkey and not much love lost to arabs

      September 15, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Reply
  3. Dean

    Islam = war = submission = intolerance = hate = slavery = oppression = death

    September 12, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Reply
    • Jim Bob

      Exactly, islam is nothing but a hatefull religon. but the same can be said about all relgino in general. Israel and its neighbors need to come to peace, or it may destroy the world, economicly, and in many other ways. I dont think the USA can go on fighting syria, jordan, egypt, turkey, and russia if israel does go to war. Because they will have to engage them all. The path ahead is grim but light i believe lies beyond it.

      September 12, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Reply
      • Kelly

        I cannot bvlieee you kissed that cute dog and that dirty baby I heard they can carry fleas. Babies, not dogs. Great haircut, by the way.

        April 21, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • Allocer

      Both of you are out of your minds.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:59 am | Reply
  4. da Bond

    time to watch and see back as Man destroys Man. nothing new if you look at the history books.its all a cycle.

    September 13, 2011 at 11:14 am | Reply
  5. wavettore

    Since 9/11 it's the War on Terror.
    One "false flag" attack so called by error.
    Blair, Bush, and Israel had a Pact in store.
    Their next surprise is knocking at your door.
    A hidden vile Idea from those who want "more"
    will use you and your Belief for the next World War
    When "chosen people" gain while Humankind loses
    Greed wins not by the swords but by the words of Moses
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    September 14, 2011 at 12:41 am | Reply
  6. PauDMX

    Israels are blamed and hated for defending themselves against mass murder. Can erdogon remember a six day war ? Which was led by egypt. Israel will stand firm according to the book.

    September 15, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Reply
  7. DEMIR

    God gave israel ?? Are you sure ?? Exactly what time did he do that ?? Did it justify to give this land to some people claiming it was their land 4000 years ago.. Well then ,who were living there 8000 years ago ?? May be it was the land of Indians-does it mean it has to be returned to Indians after 10 000 years??

    September 24, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Reply
    • SPQR

      They use the Bibel to their convenience. If it hadn't been for WW II, Jews would haver never returned to the "promise land".

      September 29, 2011 at 9:23 am | Reply
    • Erol

      Whether you believe it was God or not who gave Israel is irrelevant. Just like Istanbul is now Turkish and not Constantinople – FULL STOP. Israel is and will be FULL STOP.

      September 29, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Reply
  8. T klimchuk

    Turkey has now committed itself to a war with Israel whither they realize it or not If it doesnt it will loose face in the Arab world and will have no creablity left The drums are beating louder now Time for the Jews to bring them down a notch or two and if iran wants to interferr them as well

    September 27, 2011 at 7:12 am | Reply
  9. SPQR

    Even if the entire world tells Israel "Dude chill out a little bit", Israel won't care. Whatever happens from now on with Israel, from what I have seen, heard and read, this time Israel did this to themselves.

    September 29, 2011 at 9:17 am | Reply
  10. StarBlessedQueen

    welcome to WWIII

    October 5, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Reply
  11. neutrino

    You guys can keep on saying whatever pleases you, but not to alter the reality. Israel and US has blood on their hands, the list of the countries that Israel and Americans have attacked is countless; Casualties in millions; Children dead before they even know which country they belong to.
    On the day of judgement i'm sure the Americans and Israelis would burn in Hell forever!
    No peace with US and Israel on the MAP.

    November 29, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Reply
  12. Emre

    Turkey is the next super power. Just watch.

    March 8, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Reply
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    April 18, 2012 at 4:30 am | Reply
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    July 16, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Reply
  15. Realist

    Macho posturing this thing is, like Iran and its nuclear program. The only reason why they do these thing is to show how strong they are because if the Arabs perceive any weaknesses in them, they'll turn on both of them and try to attack those nations eventually... Anyway, I personally doubt the Turks and Israelis will fight in the end because both have loads to loose doing so!

    October 11, 2012 at 9:15 am | Reply
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