Obama's crisis management: Turkey and resetting relations with Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was elected right after US President Barack Obama was sworn in, did not get along with Obama over the last four years and the two leaders both felt the effects in their subsequent elections. Even though this influence remained superficial on the institutional level, serious disagreements and problems were experienced on crucial issues, including Iran.

However, even though this state of discord caused personal relations between the two leaders to deteriorate, the two countries remained allies and adopted a common approach to international developments. The two countries will face serious tests in this new era, including the Iranian issue, the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and the Arab Spring.

Obama was criticized because he did not make frequent references to Israel in his re-election campaign; his recent stop in Israel appears to be the strongest effort to send a message to the Israeli lobbies in the US and to the neocons. Obama has already started work related to the 2014 mid-term elections; it is also inevitable that foreign policy matters will become more prominent in his second term in office.

Obama, who is constitutionally prohibited from running for president again, will want to take a lead role in contributing to peace in the Middle East before 2014. The Israeli government, which tried to undermine the Obama administration before his re-election, will have to consider the two-state solution option with regard to the Palestinian issue.

On the other hand, Obama's March visit to Israel seems to be a message to the Republicans as well, who have always been opposed to economic and social reforms. Elections to the US House of Representatives are held every two years; for this reason, this seems to be a great opportunity for Obama.

It would be a great advantage for the Democrats to gain a majority in Congress in 2014 and be able to overcome deadlock and obstruction. It appears that the US concluded a profitable deal during this visit to Israel, considering that the US is going through a strategic and financial transformation. The US has been spending a huge amount of money on the Middle East peace process as part of its public relations efforts, an act that is not lost on the Arabs.

Israel has been negatively affected by the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood as a strong political actor during the Arab Spring process and Israel has been further isolated and alienated because when these groups came to power in Islamic countries it accelerated the collapse of the Camp David process. Even though Israel finds the two-state solution plausible and reasonable, there are still disagreements with regard to the settlements. The crisis over settlements that broke out just before US Vice President Joe Biden's recent visit to Israel is one of the most concrete examples of this.

Putting all that aside, Iran poses the greatest trouble for Israel. The American foreign policy decision-makers do not perceive Iran as a direct threat, whereas Israel sees the Iranian nuclear program as a primary threat to its existence. What the US has to do at this stage is to strike a balance between Iran and Israel. The military presence in Afghanistan and the destruction in Iraq were very costly for the American people.

It is expected that US Secretary of State John Kerry will continue the policies of his predecessor Hillary Rodham Clinton, and not take adventurous steps. For this reason, the US has to give Israel an assurance that Iran's efforts will not result in the acquisition of nuclear weapons. The significance of a US attitude that will put greater emphasis on diplomacy during Kerry's tenure is huge in the eyes of the Arabs and Israel. Kerry's greatest contribution could be his ability to participate in achieving peace in the Middle East. But this does not seem realistic at the moment.

The US is trying to preserve the status quo in order to consider Israeli priorities first when contributing to peace in the Middle East; so this will not change the current outlook in the region. What will contribute to the elimination of these barriers in the Middle East is achieving peace in relations between Israel and Turkey.

Apology to Turkey

The official apology offered by the Netanyahu government last month to Turkey during Obama's visit to Israel had shocking effects. This official apology will benefit Israel most in the long run. Israel's realignment with Turkey as a strategic friend will also have great implications for the region as well.

Israel, which remained hesitant during the Arab Spring process, adopted a clearer stance in light of the fact that Turkey was eager and determined to address the Kurdish issue. The timing of this apology was unexpected for Turkey; it appears that the Israeli government will now be more responsible in its relations with Turkey.

That clear stance taken by Turkish foreign policy decision-makers and the Israeli government that accepted the terms set by the Turkish government will draw the limits and boundaries of the new reconciliation process. It would not be wrong to argue that this process, which has been carefully crafted by the US for the last three years, is now based on one pillar. It is, of course, obvious that the White House, which developed constructive relations with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan despite Netanyahu, played a great role in this reconciliation process.

The question as to how the relationship will proceed from now on demonstrates the importance of diplomacy in the short term. Bilateral relations between Turkey and Israel will improve if Israel lifts its blockade on Gaza or allows the passage of humanitarian cargo to the area. However, it seems impossible that bilateral relations will return to what they were in the past. It appears inevitable that these two countries, which developed different attitudes during the Arab Spring process, will only be strategic partners.

Turkey is also right to expect something greater than an apology from Israel to improve the relations further.