In its eternal Sisyphean quest to extract an Israeli apology for the Mavi Marmara, Turkey has decided that involving other countries against their will in its battle is a good strategy. Hürriyet reports that Turkey has blocked Israel from attending the NATO summit in Chicago next month despite entreaties not to do so from the U.S., France, and NATO’s secretary-general. Furthermore, Turkey has now been threatened with retaliation by other NATO members who are promising to block other partner countries that are close to Turkey from participating in the Mediterranean Dialogue group. Not content to let the matter lie, Davutoğlu criticized other countries for criticizing Turkey and lectured them for considering Israel to be a partner.
Let’s go through the reasons why this is incredibly foolish and short-sighted. First, Turkey has taken what is a purely bilateral dispute between it and another state and tried to use its position in NATO to internationalize it, despite the fact that it does not concern other NATO members who have no desire to be used as pawns in Turkey’s game. This harms Turkey’s standing in NATO and damages its credibility and reputation for seriousness, and it also damages the alliance in general since now none of the Mediterranean Dialogue countries will be participating following Turkey’s veto of Israel and the resulting counter-vetoes. This does not help anyone, least of all Turkey. No other NATO country is going to look kindly upon Turkey’s efforts to hijack the group for its own selfish ends, and it is guaranteed to come back and hurt Turkey down the road. Like it or not, NATO states value Israel’s military and intelligence capabilities, and excluding Israel from a NATO summit where its presence is wanted by other countries is nothing short of petty and misguided. Turkey has every right to cancel bilateral military exercises, downgrade diplomatic relations, and do anything else that it wishes to do so long as it involves its own sovereign activities, but bringing NATO into it against the will of other NATO countries is going to have consequences next time Turkey turns to the U.S. or France for a favor (see next paragraph).
The move is even more puzzling given the timing. Turkey has been making noise about invoking NATO Article 5 over violations of its border by Syrian forces, and so it decides in its infinite wisdom to pick the upcoming NATO summit as an appropriate time and venue to annoy its NATO allies and open itself up to criticism that it does not respect the alliance’s purposes or values? I fail to see how this in any way advances Turkish interests or marshals NATO to back up Turkey without reservations should the situation with Syria escalate. It’s as if Ankara is so blinded by its fury that it is willing to sacrifice anyone and anything in order to cause even minor amounts of damage toward Israel, irrespective of any other consequences. Turkey needs to figure out its priorities and act accordingly. I would think that unvarnished NATO support to contain Syrian mischief would be Turkey’s chief concern right now rather than scoring points against Israel, but I suppose in thinking that I must be out of my strategic depth (and yes, pun very much intended).
The final reason why this is a silly move unbefitting Davutoğlu’s reputation for canny diplomacy is that it will not bring Israel any closer to the apology that Turkey is seeking. Israel is extremely reluctant to comply with Turkey’s terms for normalized relations given its view that Turkey tacitly blessed the Mavi Marmara’s journey, and reports such as this one that describe firsthand accounts of what was waiting for the paintgun-wielding Israeli soldiers as they dropped onto the ship’s deck only magnify Israel’s reluctance. If Turkey actually thought that excluding Israel from a NATO meeting would prompt an apology, and knowing how big a priority this is for Erdoğan and Davutoğlu, then perhaps I would understand it, and it might even be logical for Turkey to do from a cost-benefit perspective. But there is literally zero chance that doing so will bring about Ankara’s desired result, and it will instead only convince Israel that the Turkish government is determined to damage it in any and every forum, making the possibility of an apology further and further remote. What’s more, the Turkish government knows this full well, and this is not a gambit designed to do anything more than poke Israel in the eye. When you take this into consideration, and then factor in the fact that Turkey is genuinely pissing off its NATO allies, this move makes no sense at all. One can only conclude that the architects of Turkish foreign policy are either not thinking particularly clearly at the moment, or that their rage toward Israel is indeed impeding other more important goals from being realized. Either way, it does not put Turkey in a very good light.