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Realpolitik, Which Once Prevented Israel From Recognizing the Armenian Genocide, Now Points in the Other Direction
by Hugh Fitzgerald
Israel for years was a close military ally of Turkey, the Jewish state’s one friend in the Arab and Muslim world, Both countries benefitted from the alliance, and Israel for a long time was reluctant to damage that relationship by recognizing the Armenian Genocide. But many things have happened to change that calculation: the enmity felt by the antisemitic Erdogan toward the Jewish state: the new normalization of Israeli ties to four Arab states, members of the Abraham Accords, with more Arab states to come; the much greater military strength of Israel compared to what it was in the first few decades of the Jewish state’s existence; the increasing number of states that are now recognizing the Armenian Genocide, including the most important one, the United States. “Why has Israel not yet recognized the Armenian Genocide?,” by Jeremy Sharon, Jerusalem Post, April 25, 2021:
DR. HAY Eytan Cohen Yanarocak, an expert on Turkey at the Moshe Dayan Center of Tel Aviv University and the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS), takes a much more practical approach.
He notes that he himself believes the massacres of the Armenians to indeed constitute genocide, but argues that it would not serve Israel to unilaterally recognize it as such, given the importance of relations with Turkey, even after more than a decade of rancor between the two countries.
But just how important are relations with Turkey now, as compared to the past? Despite occasional signs that Erdogan might want to improve relations with Israel – just a bit, without abandoning the Palestinians — for the sole purpose of arriving at an agreement on maritime borders with the Jewish State, he’s not about to halt his anti-Israel activities. He won’t, for example, stop supporting Hamas, with Turkey even providing citizenship to Hamas members. He continues to support the Muslim Brotherhood which, were it again to come to power in Egypt, would end the country’s military cooperation with Israel, and increase the threat to the Jewish state.
Turkey was for several decades Israel’s only Muslim friend, and Israel was careful to preserve that friendship by not recognizing the Armenian Genocide. But now Israel not only has peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, but much more importantly, has normalized relations with four Muslim Arab states – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. With the Abraham Accords, Israel has far less need of Turkey as a point of entry into the Muslim Arab world. In fact, Turkey is so unpopular in that world, so suspect because of Erdogan’s base-building in Arab states – Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Somalia – that reflect is neo-Ottoman dreams, that Israel would do better among the Arabs were it to distance itself even more from Istanbul.
Recognizing the Armenian Genocide may be something very moral, but it will not contribute to Israel’s national interests,” says Yanarocak.
He says that the utility of having Turkey as an ally from 1949 and the diplomatic and military benefits that stemmed from it, were indeed the primary reason that Israel for so long declined to recognize the Armenian Genocide.
“Realpolitik is my bible. From my perspective, Israel should be very cautious and should not lead the way for recognition of the Armenian Genocide,” he says.
Yanarocak insists that recognizing the Armenian Genocide “will not contribute to Israel’s national interests.” I disagree. Whatever utility having Turkey as an ally once offered the Jewish state in the first four decades of its existence, Turkey is no longer that ally, and there is no reason to think that under Erdogan it will be again. There are no diplomatic or military benefits that Israel stands to lose if it recognizes the Armenian Genocide; it has already lost Turkey’s diplomatic support and seen its former military alliance with Turkey ripped to shreds by Erdogan. But if it does not now recognize the Armenian Genocide, it stands to lose something important though unquantifiable: how Israel sees itself and its own moral standing, and the harmful effect on the country’s morale if the Jewish state remains one of the last holdouts in the advanced West, by refraining from recognizing the Armenian Genocide.
As for Yanarocak’s insistence that Israel should “not lead the way for recognition of the Armenian Genocide,” he needn’t worry. Among the major powers, France “led the way” in recognizing the genocide in 2001. As of 2021, governments and parliaments of 32 countries, including the United States, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Russia, and Brazil have formally recognized the Armenian Genocide. Israel would not be “leading the way” – instead, it would be one of the states bringing up the rear. Is that what Israel wants?
He says that despite the poor relations between Turkey and Israel, there are several reasons to believe that interests between the two countries may be converging once again.
Specifically, a rift has opened up between Turkey and Iran, Israel’s arch foe, over its penetration and influence in Iraq and Syria.
Tehran has long supported the Assad regime in Syria and opposes Turkish intervention there, and has therefore provided support to Kurdish groups in both countries which Turkey fiercely opposes.
Yanarocak says that Israel and Turkey have a joint agenda to minimize the Iranian presence in Syria, and that this rift could be extremely beneficial for Israel.
Turkey and Israel each have their own good and sufficient reasons to oppose Iranian moves in Iraq and Syria. These national interests do not change depending on whether or not Israel recognizes the Armenian Genocide. The recognition of the Armenian Genocide by France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Russia, Brazil, and the United States led at most to brief outbursts of Turkish anger. After Biden recognized the genocide, the Turks issued a statement. The Foreign Minister, not Erdogan himself, said that “Turkey will not be given lessons on our history from anybody.” And then…nothing. Relations continue much as before. If Turkey now wants to improve relations with Israel so as to be better able to exploit hydrocarbon deposits in the Mediterranean, it’s not going to let Israel becoming the 33rd country to recognize the Armenian Genocide to get in the way of its national interests.
He [Yanarocak] also says that repairing relations with Ankara could help Israel advance its efforts to exploit gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Israel does not need Turkish approval for its exploitation of its own gas reserves, and is going full steam ahead with production at the giant Leviathan and Tamar gas fields, as well as continuing exploration within its maritime borders. The Turkish navy has been threatening vessels in Cypriot and Greek waters, but doesn’t dare to do so in Israeli waters. Israel plows ahead, with its exploration in those waters, and neither Turkey with its expansive claims as to its own maritime borders, nor Lebanon with its claims of a maritime area that overlaps that of Israel, are going to prevent the Jewish state from forging ahead with exploration for, and exploitation of, its own undersea gas deposits.
He [Yanarocak] also asserts that unilaterally recognizing the Armenian Genocide would also upset Azerbaijan, a close diplomatic and cultural ally of Turkey with a land border with Iran, and with which Israel also has very good diplomatic and military ties.
Azerbaijan buys 80% of its weaponry from Israel. Israeli drones helped Azerbaijan win a quick and decisive victory over Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azeris recognize the value of Israel’s military aid, and are grateful. For several decades, ever since it obtained independence in 1991, Azerbaijan has been forging ever closer ties with Israel, in technology, trade, and, especially, defense, and it is not going to endanger those ties if Israel recognizes a genocide by the Turks, which the Azeris, not Turks though a Turkic people, had nothing to do with.
Yanarocak argues that Turkey’s limited response to the French recognition of the Armenian Genocide in 2019 and informal recognition by Russia in 2016 was due to the imbalance of power between Turkey and those two countries.
First, Yanarocak has his dates all wrong. France recognized the genocide not in 2019 but in 2001.Russia, through a resolution of its Duma, recognized the genocide not in 2016 but in 1995….
Second, Turkey’s “limited response” to such recognition was — so Yanarocak claims — because those countries were too powerful to threaten. But even smaller powers, like Italy and Greece, did not suffer any untoward consequences from Turkey when they recognized the Armenian Genocide. And Israel is a very different country from what it was when it needed Turkish support in 1949, and 1959, and 1969. It has steadily increased its military, economic, and political power. It is one of the 10 largest exporters of arms in the world. It is a world leader in many areas of military technology, including military drones, the use of lasers as anti-missile weapons, anti-tank missile defense, and the Iron Dome mobile air defense system. It is also a leader in cyberwarfare. It doesn’t need Turkey as its sole link to the Muslim world; it now has the four Arab states in the Abraham Accords that are rapidly weaving ever more dense economic, political, and military ties to the Jewish state, which have become especially strong with the U.A.E. And more Arab states are reportedly set to join the Abraham Accords. Israel thus has no need of Turkey as its diplomatic interlocutor with the Arab states; it may turn out to be the reverse, with Turkey needing Israel to help it improve its relations with the Arabs, once the neo-Ottoman schemer Erdogan is removed from power.
Turkey is in the midst of both a pandemic crisis and an economic crisis. It is hard to see what trouble it could make for Israel that it isn’t already making with Erdogan’s hostile policy. The Turks are at low point diplomatically. They have antagonized their NATO “allies” by, among other off-putting antics, describing the Germans and the Dutch – both members of NATO — as“Nazis.” Turkey has no friends among the Arab states (save possibly Qatar) ; the Arabs understandably are apprehensive about Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman ambitions. Erdogan has built a permanent Turkish naval base in Libya at Misrata, a city in western Libya where more than a million Libyans of Turkish descent live, and the Turks also now share with the Libyans the airbase at Al-Watiya; Erdogan’s troops show no signs of leaving. He has also built what looks like a permanent Turkish base in northwestern Syria near Afrin, and another in northern Iraq, to control the Kurdish population of the region. Still another Turkish outpost has been built in Somalia. What is all this if not an attempt to extend the tentacles of Turkish power into places that were formerly part of the Ottoman Empire?
Egypt and the Gulf Arab states fear and loathe Erdogan, because of his support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which they rightly see as a direct threat to their regimes, and for his neo-Ottoman dreams. How exactly, given its odd-man-out position both in NATO, and in the Arab world, does Yanarocak think Turkey is in any position “to make trouble for Israel?” And were Erdogan to be foolish enough to send a ship to interfere with Israeli extraction of its own undersea gas deposits, the Israeli navy and air force will make short shrift of the intruder.
Nevertheless, Charny insists that there are considerations that supersede what he sees as narrow national interests, considerations that he believes could withstand Turkish ire.
“Is there not a point when ethical considerations are no less important than realpolitik? Would we have accepted this kind of reasoning by a country supporting Germany during World War II but at the same time disassociating itself from what Germany was doing to civilians in general and the Jewish people in particular?” he demands.
“It is our human and Jewish responsibility to strengthen peace, and caring for humanity. I love Israel’s contribution to [helping those suffering from] national disasters around the world. That’s the kind of Israel I want to see and be part of,” he says.
In fact, reasons of realpolitik, which once prevented Israel from recognizing the Armenian genocide, now point inexorably in the other direction. Realpolitik means that now, with the United States having become the 32nd state to recognize the Armenian genocide, Israel’s continued refusal to do so makes it stand out ever more as being on what Obama liked to call “the wrong side of history.” It will not help Israel to be seen as concerned with what happened to the Jews at German hands yet being willing to ignore the genocide by the Turks that preceded the Holocaust. And the damage to Israeli morale will be hard to repair.
First published in Jihad Watch.