While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s thinking on Iran is well documented — given Jeffrey Goldberg “channelling” him or his advisers’ apocalyptic rhetoric on the matter — his developing views on Turkey and the as-yet-uncreated Palestinian State are now coming to the surface.
With already simmering tensions over Israel’s policy in the Gaza Strip, relations between Tel Aviv and Ankara chilled even further following Israel’s attack on the Gaza-bound humanitarian aid flotilla that left eight Turkish citizens and one dual Turkish-U.S. citizen dead.
Although rumors of Turkey’s growing ties to Iran are greatly exaggerated, Netanyahu didn’t hesitate on Monday to lump these nations together — with the unborn Palestinian State — as potential security threats to Israel.
Speaking before the Israeli Knesset, Netanyahu said:
We live in a small country – very small. Our small dimensions pose existential security problems – problems that are unique to Israel.
We must not take these security problems too lightly, and we must not allow ourselves to be tempted by the illusion that a peace agreement, in and of itself, will resolve them.
We once had peaceful, normal relations, relations which included exchanges of delegations, contact between leaders, trade relations, especially of petroleum, with an important country. That country is called Iran.
We also had wonderful, friendly relations with another country, with military cooperation, with full diplomatic relations, with visits by heads of state, with 400,000 Israeli visitors to that country. That country is called Turkey.
I still we can rehabilitate and restore those relations, which have deteriorated against our will. Things have changed in Iran, and unfortunately in other places as well, almost overnight, and no one can promise us that, despite our desire, a similar thing won’t happen after the establishment of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
If Netanyahu is serious about wanting to make a bombing run against Iran in the next year — despite Israeli intelligence estimates Iran won’t have the bomb for at least another three years — then it’s not hard to imagine Israel igniting a wider regional conflict involving Turkey.
Turkey, of course, is an emerging power in the region. The government of Recep Tayyip Erdo?an has proven a regional mover-and-shaker, brokering (with Brazil) a fuel swap agreement with Tehran. Were it not for Western ambivalence, this might have proved a confidence building exercise toward broader nuclear talks. Furthermore, Syria and Turkey’s relations recently thawed in pursuit of mutual enmity to Kurdish rebels. And Syria demanded, should it return to the table with Israel, that Turkey mediate talks.
Bibi’s speech raises the question of how serious he possibly is about making concessions to create a Palestinian state which would have ties with two countries that Israel no longer has “wonderful, friendly” or “peaceful, normal relations” with.
Just as hardliners in Tehran depend on perceived threats against the regime for domestic support, Netanyahu, too, might view regional peace as a threat to his government and position.