Sassounian: Turkey Exposed: Can’t Pretend to Be Both Pro-Israeli and Pro-Palestinian

Playing the skillful political games of their Ottoman predecessors, Turkey’s current masters present their country under various guises—as European and Middle Eastern, Islamic and secular, pro-Arab and pro-Israeli.

It now appears that the end is near for at least one of these Turkish charades. Israeli officials have finally awakened from their prolonged coma to discover that their erstwhile “strategic partner” is far more hostile than their Arab enemies.

For a long time, Turkish leaders have been calling the Israelis all sorts of unsavory names and accusing Israel of committing barbaric acts, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Strangely, Israel has shown little indignation, even in the face of persistent racist and anti-Semitic outbursts by large segments of the Turkish public.

The latest display of Turkish hostility was the exclusion of Israel from a multinational military exercise that was to start in Turkey on Oct. 12. In protest, the United States, Italy, and Holland pulled out of these maneuvers, causing their cancellation. In a move designed to further irritate the Israelis, Turkey announced that it would instead hold joint military exercises with Syria, Israel’s main adversary.

Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told the Anatolia Press Agency last week that he had banned Israel from the military drill in response to the wishes of the Turkish public. “Turkey does not take orders from anyone in regards to its internal affairs,” Erdogan boasted. Some Turkish officials indicated that the ban was instituted because the Israeli jets assigned to the exercise had participated in the Gaza bombings earlier this year.

The episode marks a major escalation of the long-standing Turkish bitterness towards Israel. For the first time, the Turkish military joined the civilian government in adopting an anti-Israeli position. Furthermore, Turkey went beyond mere verbal condemnation to taking concrete action. For years, the Israeli government was willing to swallow insults from Turkish officials, as long as its air force was permitted to make practice runs in the vast Turkish airspace, share intelligence, and sell military hardware to Turkey.

Making matters worse, Israelis were deeply offended by the broadcast of a Turkish show on state TV last week, which depicted graphic scenes of Israeli soldiers killing Palestinian children and committing other atrocities.

Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, reacted by summoning the Turkish ambassador and accused Turkey of inciting hatred against Israelis. Lieberman said that not even Israel’s enemies would air such a hostile TV series. Israel’s deputy prime minister, Silvan Shalom, urged Turkey “to come to its senses.” Another Israeli official stated, “We need to stop accepting the Turkish dictates and humiliations. It is inconceivable that they should insult us at every opportunity, and we should continue to hold our tongues.”

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, categorically rejected any future mediating role for Turkey in talks with Syria. An unnamed “senior Israeli official” was quoted by Haaretz as stating that the strategic ties with Turkey may “have simply ended.” Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post quoted some Israeli defense officials as stating that “advanced weapons sales to Turkey would now be reviewed.”

There were also widespread calls last week for the Israeli public to boycott Turkish resorts. National Public Radio (NPR) reported that Israel’s largest labor union would no longer plan organized tours of Turkey for thousands of its workers, and would direct them to go to Greece or Bulgaria instead. Since January, there has been a 47 percent drop in the number of Israelis spending their vacations in Turkey, according to Time magazine. An Israeli coffee shop chain expressed its displeasure by announcing that it would no longer serve Turkish coffee to its customers. In an unprecedented move, several Israeli cabinet ministers declared that they would turn down the Turkish Embassy’s invitation to attend Turkey’s Independence Day celebrations later this month.

Many outraged Israelis advocated that, in retaliation, Israel acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. Dan Margalit of the “Israel Hayom” newspaper accused the Turks of not only committing genocide, but also the “ongoing crime, which is expressed in energetic Turkish activity to deny the atrocity and to incite against any country and government and artist who wish to express their horror.”

Ephraim Inbar, the head of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, reminded the Turks that they are still in need of “Israeli influence in Washington to prevent the passage in Congress of a resolution declaring the killing of Armenians during World War I a genocide.”

In an unprecedented action, the “Im Tirtzu” Israeli student movement held a protest last week in front of the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv. The students displayed bloody pictures of victims of the Armenian Genocide, handed out books on the genocide to passersby, and carried signs calling on Turkey to formally recognize the genocide.

To atone for its past sin of siding with Turkish denialists, Israel must officially affirm the Armenian Genocide as well as actively lobby for its recognition by other states. Israel should also permit the erection of a monument at a prominent location to commemorate the victims of the Armenian Genocide and reverse its long-standing ban of TV documentaries on this subject. It is certainly in Israel’s own interest to side with the victims of genocide rather than with its perpetrators!

Instead of maintaining at all cost its unholy alliance with Turkey, Israel should earnestly pursue a peace settlement with the Palestinians and live in peace with its Arab neighbors, thus obviating the need to curry favors with the Turkish denialist regime.


Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh $917 million of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.


  1. There is a lot that israel ‘should’ do, but it is not going to happen anytime soon.  Don’t be suprised to see washington send hillary to tel aviv and ankara, after all, these are america’s two favorite kids. 

  2. “Playing the skillful political games of their Ottoman predecessors, Turkey’s current masters present their country under various guises—as European and Middle Eastern, Islamic and secular, pro-Arab and pro-Israeli.”
    Sounds like the USA or Russia or any other power LOL :) Turkey has had an imperial past and has tasted being powerful and influential in its region and beyond. They will not be imperial again but will so in terms of economic power and political power into the following decades. No one can deny that fact as there is nothing stopping it being so (particularly internal strife which is getting lesser and lesser everyday).
    I also love the number of times this article says “Israel should…” this is such a typical example of a pre-set opinion even before such an article was written.

  3. Sassunian’s insight into the intricacies of politics is always informative to his readers, particularly in their relationship where Armenia is concerned.It is encouraging to see Israel is opening its eyes to Turkish vascillating.I am glad Harut is reporting there is trouble in the Israeli-Turkish love affair. Shame on Israel for not throwing its weight behind the Armenian Genocide Resolution without using it as a card to play against Turkey. Sassunian should be appreciated for the great work he does for the Armenian people and truth and justice.

  4. Peter,

    turkey will not spread its influence too far without the tacit approval of Russia or Iran, especially in the Caucasus and Central Asia.  The ideology of pan-turanism is not dead and both Russian and Iranian policy makers realize this.  I think you must have read George Friedmans book, the next 100 years, and now give turkey more credit than it deserves.  For sure turkey has potential and it is trying to use these things, but as long as they have issues with the kurds, which will not be solved anytime soon, and a strong Iran and Russia in the region, they will not become the dominant power in the region.

    P.S.  And do you disagree with what israel should do, according to this article?

  5. Turkey had one of the worst economies about 30 to 40 years ago in the world. That was exactly the result of their own performance.
    After Iran Islamic revolution, king of Iran left and the west lost its bases against USSR. The best alternative in the region was Turkey which substituted Iran in that sense. Since a great market existed (and still exists today) in the Middle East, therefore US, European and multinational giant companies started to make huge investments in Turkey. Turkey’s economy boosted and a remarkable growth replaced recession and 30% inflation of those times.
    This brief piece of recent history was an explanation for those commentators who think Turkey is a great and powerful state that will become so and so in future. Of course Turks are hard working people and their correct management of those foreign investments made what they are today, but do not forget “if somebody gives you power, he HAS the power to take it back”, unless you gain it on your own, using your own performance, technology, hard work, culture etc. For the time being, those multinational companies have earned enough profit from their investments and the threat of USSR is diminished. The western powers have some plans regarding “The Great Middle East” in which Turkey’s role would not be the same as what it was before.
    Having these facts in mind one can follow the latest news regarding Turkey’s internal and external status and its relations with neighbors and come to a different conclusion, especially if a little civil or external war (like what is going on in some Arab neighboring states) takes place.

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