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Jerusalem Peace & Security Forum

Jerusalem Peace & Security Forum: Trends in the Relationships between Israel, Turkey, and the US

The March 22 apology from Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, during US President Barack Obama’s final moments of his visit to Israel, inspired the Israel Peace and Security Forum to explore the contemporary relations between those three nations: Israel, Turkey, and the United States. The May 13, 2013 forum focused on Relations between Israel, Turkey, and the United States:
Contemporary Trends

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Col. Moshe Zurich (Reserve) - Former Israel Military Attaché to the United States and Deputy Head of Research for the Directorate of Israeli Military Intelligence

Prof. Eliezer Glaubach - Specialist in Israeli political studies focusing on Jerusalem

Mr. Shai Ben Do v- An executive working in the technology and telecommunication sectors

Dr. Sarah Ozacky-Lazar - Researcher at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute

Colonel Dr. Erez Svardelov (Reserve) - Operations Research Specialist and Head of Risk Analysis at Matrix IT, Ltd.

Mr. Dan Catarivas - Head of Foreign Trade and International Relations at the Manufacturers’ Association of Israel

Dr. Anat Lapidot-Firilla - Head of Research, Israel’s Neighbors in the Middle East,The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and a lecturer in the Department of International Relations at Hebrew University

Dr. Drora Ben Dov - Director of International Public Relations for the Israeli Communication and Press Association and a strategic consultant and lecturer in political communication

Mrs. Adi Sasaki - Director the Jerusalem Peace & Security Forum

Ms. Miri Kamar - Secretary General UPF-Israel

Dr. Nurit Hirshfeld - Rapporteur UPF-Israel

Col. Moshe Zurich, moderator for the meeting, opened the discussion. The Middle East, he suggested, is going through revolutions and changes which will lead to new developments. Processes that in the past used to take decades and even centuries are now occurring at the speed of a phone call or an international flight. This is why Israel should seriously ask itself how to take advantage of those processes, as a means to create stability in our region. Turkey can be a leading participant, by moving to fill the vacuum from lack of leadership in the region, created in the aftermath of the “Arab Spring” revolution which began in Egypt. The movement towards Turkish leadership is a sane alternative to a totalitarian power such as Iran. The question is whether Turkey is capable of providing effective leadership, and whether the U.S. is interested in an expanded role in the Middle East.

Col. Zurich closed his opening remarks with the suggestion that a USA-Turkey-Israel triangle might create a powerful new center. The question he opened for a discussion was: Is this indeed a triangle of common interests? Would it create a new center of power in the Middle East?

Professor Eliezer Glaubach pointed to the tremendous impact that global powers typically have on Middle Eastern affairs. Arab and other Muslim states as well as Israel are therefore not free to do as they wish in the region, he suggests; rather they are influenced by numerous external forces. As an example, he mentioned the internal conflicts among Sunni and Shiite Muslims. On the one hand is the more moderate Turkey, which represents Sunni Muslims, while Shiite Iran is constantly working to create strife via its access to Iraq and Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The "Marmara incident" was an example of an internal Shiite-Sunni conflict in which Israel was used by them to stand out in the Middle East.

Professor Glaubach sees U.S. involvement in the Middle East as a natural consequence of America’s foreign policy interests toward maintaining a foothold in the region. Israel is a loyal ally of the U.S., and since the U.S. is working to expand its relations with Turkey, the Israel-US-Turkey is an axis that Israel should learn to handle.

In his presentation, Mr. Shay Ben Dov emphasized the religious character of the Turkish nation, with its 70 million inhabitants. In terms of purchasing power they are indeed a regional superpower, and Israel should learn to deal with Turkey as such.

Dr. Erez Svardalov pointed out during his comments that the Iranian election would be held soon and that students and women in general dislike the current regime; accordingly, he suggested, this can be seen to indirectly have an influence on Turkey. He doesn't see the Turkish state as a strategic threat to Israel and believes that the mutual economic interests of the two nations have the potential to create a positive and stable relationship.

Also speaking to the economic aspects of a relationship between Israel and Turkey was Mr. Dan Katribas, who gave a detailed list of economic-based agreements signed between Israel and Turkey since 1992. All of the agreements remain valid, with the most important being the Free Trade Agreement. Mr. Katribas explained that such a wide range of economic agreements is something that Israel has with only few countries. Since the profit motives of such agreements, particularly the Free Trade Agreement, are so strong, he maintains that any political disagreements, at least at this point, are not considered reasons to interfere with the current successful economic relationship. He maintained that if the U.S., for its part, wants to strengthen the relationship between Israel and Turkey, it can do so through supporting existing economic agreements between those two countries.

Dr. Aanat Lapidot-Firila, explained that Turkey has indeed made substantive economic achievements. Nevertheless, in other fields, Turkey is in regression: Turkey failed to detach itself from dependence on the U.S. and thus failed to present itself as an empire; unlike Israel, Turkey still has no energy policy; it failed to become a leading power in the Middle East, left only with the Hamas and Gaza as its last stronghold.

Dr. Lapidot noted that the Turkish people see Hamas as the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. The Turkish-Kurdish problem, though only touched on briefly in this discussion, was also mentioned as an issue which has begun to play a role in the Middle East Region.

Dr. Sara Osacky-Lazar sees the relationship with Turkey as a very important axis for the Israeli state, at present time as well as in past times. "Turkey is interested in reconciliation between Hamas and Abu-Mazen," she said, "and it is also in Israel’s interest to have one factor to deal with. Unfreezing the political deadlock is also, obviously, a U.S. interest."

The forum’s discussion concluded with an optimistic remark by Dr. Drora Ben Dov: "We live in an age of instant and quick developments with huge media influence. The unrest and uncertainty in the Middle East can also provide new opportunities. This is now a chance to expedite the developments."

There were some issues raised regarding the gaps between Israel and Turkey:
a) Turkey needs Iranian oil while Iran uses Turkey as a way to bypass the sanctions on their banks.

b) Turkey condemns military attempts to solve the issue of nuclear weapons in Iran. On that point there is a disagreement with the US. Turkey wants to solve this issue through negotiation. Moreover, Turkey is supporting "a nuclear weapons-free Middle East" (implying that Israel would have to be disarmed).

c) The Turkish people are empathetic to the Palestinian situation.

In the final segment of the program, Col. Zurich asked the participants what advice they would give to the Israeli government. Mr. Ben Dov emphasized the importance of solving the Palestinian problem first, while Dr. Lapidot-Firila said that she would advise the Israeli government to open negotiations for reconciliation with Turkey. Dr. Svardalov emphasized the importance of maintaining Israel's power of deterrence. The point of agreement among the participants regarding a recommendation they would give to the Israeli government was to negotiate a comprehensive peace agreement with the Arab League.

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