‘Israel is a great resource for Turkey’

‘Israel is a great resource for Turkey’

Foreign policy expert parses relationships in wake of failed coup

Dr. Mark Meirowitz by the statue of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, next to the Turkish Embassy in Washington, DC.
Dr. Mark Meirowitz by the statue of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, next to the Turkish Embassy in Washington, DC.

Despite last month’s attempted coup and because the recently negotiated Turkey-Israel deal is a “win-win” for both countries, Dr. Mark Meirowitz, a recognized expert on Turkish foreign policy, believes the recent moves toward normalization of relations between the two countries will continue and succeed.

An assistant professor of humanities at SUNY Maritime College with a doctorate in political science, Meirowitz sits on the advisory board of the Turkish-American Council, is writing a book on Turkish foreign policy for an academic press, and specializes in United States-Turkish relations and Turkish-Israel relations. 

A resident of Manhattan, he has spent summers in Elberon since 1985, attending Congregation Brothers of Israel in Long Branch. In the wake of the recent major events in Turkey, he answered questions from NJJN.

NJJN: Can you give some background on the recent coup attempt?

Meirowitz: On July 15, 2016, there was an attempted coup in Turkey when elements of the Turkish military tried to take over the government. Following a call by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, broadcast over the media, the Turkish people went to the streets, stood in front of the soldiers, and the coup failed.

Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency for three months and blamed Fethullah Gulen — a preacher and imam who resides in Pennsylvania and runs an organization of schools around the world — and his movement as masterminds of the coup and has been demanding his extradition from the U.S. to Turkey for trial…. 

NJJN: How have these developments affected United States-Turkish relations?

Meirowitz: The U.S. response has been that no extradition [of Gulen] can go forward without evidence presented to back up the allegations…. This is now a bone of contention between the U.S. and Turkey. The U.S. has said in effect, “We can’t just give him up. It has to be done legally.” 

If Gulen is not extradited, we may see a serious decline in U.S.-Turkish relations. I’m hopeful we won’t see this decline, and relations will go forward because these two countries need each other, especially because of the chaos in the region. 

NJJN: What do you think will happen?

Meirowitz: It is entirely possible that U.S.-Turkish relations may be disrupted because of the lengthy legal extradition process…. We’ve had a good relationship for years and years, and Turkey has been a reliable partner in NATO. Hopefully U.S.-Turkish relations will continue as before, but the post-coup events are of concern — for example, large anti-American protests outside the U.S. military base at Incirlik. The U.S. recently recommended that families of U.S. military personnel leave Turkey.

NJJN: How has this incident affected Turkey’s standing with other NATO partner countries and the European Union?

Meirowitz: It has ramifications because Turkey is a key player in NATO. It has the second-largest military force in NATO — it has a gigantic military structure — and is a key participant in the fight against ISIS. Air attacks against ISIS have been launched from Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. As such, the continuation of sorties against ISIS from Incirlik is very, very important in order to implement the U.S. policy to destroy ISIS. 

Some have argued that Turkey should be expelled from NATO if U.S.-Turkish relations decline. I don’t think this is possible or appropriate. It is hoped that the U.S. and Turkey will see their way through these issues because there are so many vital matters for them to work on together, and we can’t have an interruption of those relations.

Turkey has announced it may reimpose the death penalty, which has placed further in doubt the already waning chances of Turkey’s accession to the EU.

NJJN: How has the relationship with Israel been affected?

Meirowitz: Turkey recently agreed to reinstate its high-level relations with Israel for the first time since the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, in which nine Turks were killed when Israeli commandos boarded the Turkish ship when it tried to break the Gaza blockade. Turkey and Israel recently agreed to exchange ambassadors. The key elements of the deal were: an apology by Israel, already accomplished by Prime Minister Netanyahu and facilitated by President Obama; $20 million in compensation by Israel to the Turkish families of those killed; and dealing with the Gaza blockade. 

Israel agreed that instead of lifting the Gaza blockade — as requested by Turkey during the negotiations — Turkey can ship humanitarian supplies to the port of Ashdod, from which they will be shipped to Gaza. The Turkish parliament was supposed to approve the compensation deal, but they were not able to because parliament was bombed during the coup. But the expectation is that the deal will go through because it is a win-win situation for both countries. Turkey has serious energy needs and Israel has significant energy resources, and they share security concerns. Because of the security problems Turkey faces — exemplified by the ISIS attack on Istanbul Airport on May 31 — Israel is a great resource for Turkey. Israel stepped up right away during the coup attempt and supported the government.

NJJN: What is the status of the Jewish community in Turkey?

Meirowitz: There are fewer than 20,000 Jews in Turkey. The Turkish-Jewish community, including Chief Rabbi Ishak Haleva, has been very supportive of the government, speaking out strongly against the coup. It is significant that Turkish Jews have joined with other Turks to show their solidarity, express their opposition to the coup, and demonstrate unwavering support for the government.

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