The Turkey-Israel Agreement
The Turkey-Israel Agreement

My late father, Nahum Kuperschmidt, was a construction site metalworker, a job that was not especially complex, but required absolute honesty, because although no one knows exactly what a metalworker does to keep precipitation from leaking into a building, the first rains are enough to expose any careless work on his part.

He taught me an ironclad rule: When dealing with decent people you don't need a contract, but  if the people you are dealing with are not decent, a contract will do you no good. Every time I have to sign a contract I check on the decency of the other party before doing so. And the same rule that works in the private sphere works in the public sphere.

The agreement signed by Israel and Turkey this week is meant to restore relations between the two countries to the level they were before the Mavi Marmara incident in May 2010. When the Justice and Development Party headed by Recep Tayyib Erdogan won the 2002 Turkish elections and blanketed the relations between Turkey and Israel with an Islamist cloud emanating from the direction of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose modern version of political Islam's policy was to deny Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state or to be the homeland of the Jewish people.   The Jews were supposed to be under Islamic subjugation as a class of "protected dhimmi" with limited rights at best.

Diplomatic relations with Israel were part of Erdogan's inheritance, but he gradually chilled and downgraded them, while he warmed up to and developed relations with the Islamic entity in Gaza, ruled by Hamas , the Palestinian arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Marmara was Erdogan's contribution towards breaking the Israeli blockade on Gaza, and Israel's success in preventing that from happening was a bitter pill for him to swallow.

Under the Islamic party's rule, Turkey had to put up with, at first, a number of  heretical vestiges of the secular vision of the "Attaturk" (Mustapha Kamal) regimes that ran the country from the 1920's until the Islamists returned to power. That included several casinos that continued to operate until a few years past 2002, the sale of alcoholic beverages and beaches where the prevalent attire was light years away from Islamic norms.  

Instead of empowering Hamas by granting it the ability to sabotage the agreement, Israel decided to leave the humanitarian issues on a bilateral level, between Israel and Hamas.
The flotilla crisis  occurred in May 2010 and its aftermath is now in the hands of President Erdogan, who has to decide if he, the Islamist, will reestablish the relations with Israel which he himself caused to be severed. The decision is not an easy one, especially for a person whose egocentricity trumps every objective factor, so that he has to swallow his pride in order to agree to the deal.

Except that the past few years have left him no choice. Despite his political ambitions to live in peace with all the nations surrounding Turkey, he managed to find himself in conflict with every one of them. He is accused of providing the bridge which Jihadists crossed into Syria, destroying that country; he supported ISIS mainly by purchasing raw fuel that the group produced in Syria and Iraq; he shot down a Russian warplane in 2015 and ound himself at odds with Putin; he is up to his neck in a struggle with the Turkish, Syrian and Iraqi Kurds; he is in  mess with the Iranians who strongly support  Assad, whom he hates with a passion, and he also has to sit by and watch the Iranians take over the Arab areas on the southern border of Turkey, Iraq and Syria, after their takeover of Lebanon by means of Iran's proxy, the Hezbollah.

As soon as Turkey itself became a target for ISIS terror attacks, Erdogan found himself in a war with Islamic fanatics – exactly like Israel. He knows one or two things about Hamas involvement in training, arming and drilling Jihadists in the "Sinai Province of Islamic State" and it is possible that his decision to reach an agreement with Israel will cause a certain chill in his relations with Hamas. Time will tell, especially if Turkey keeps its commitment to prevent Hamas from using Turkey as a base of operations.

In the agreement, Turkey agreed in principle to the continuation of Israel's sea blockade of Gaza, and all Turkish aid to Gaza will arrive through the port of Ashdod after its contents are checked and authorized by Israel. This is a great achievement for Israel - and it is quite possible that Hamas will refuse to accept the aid under these conditions.

Another Israeli achievement has to do with marketing gas to Turkey by way of an undersea pipeline, and perhaps even eliciting Turkey's help in marketing gas to Europe. This is a very important part of the agreement, considering the fact that in the past few years several Turkish politicians have expressed their belief that Turkey has rights to the gas in the deposits that Israel discovered, and there was even the possibility of Turkey initiating hostilities against Israeli gas installations in the Mediterranean. Including the gas issue in the agreement puts an end to any future Turkish claims on rights to the gas deposits.

The price Israel paid for the agreement with Turkey was not a minor one, nor is it an easy one  to pay. In exchange for ending all Turkish claims against IDF soldiers and Israeli politicians with regard to the Marmara, Israel agreed to apologize for the killing of ten Turkish citizens during the takeover of the ship and to the payment of 20 m. dollars, not directly to the families, but  to a fund to be managed by the Turkish government.

Israel dropped its demand to return Avera Mengistu and Hasham Alsaid as well as the remains of the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul. The reason for that is simple. Israel feels that Hamas will be far from pleased by the agreement, to put it mildly, and will not be willing to do anything that might help it succeed. Instead of empowering Hamas by granting it the ability to sabotage the agreement, Israel decided to leave the humanitarian issues on a bilateral level, between Israel and Hamas.

That aside, no country can mortgage its relations with another important country in order to solve and bring to an end problems involving specific persons. It is true that the two fallen IDF soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, were sent to war by the state, and it is true that the states' commitment to them is absolute, still – since they are, sadly, not among the living – the issue is an emotional and symbolic one for the citizens of Israel, while relations with Turkey are in the field of national, strategic, political and economic interests of the organizational aspects of the state.

All in all, the agreement with Turkey is a good one, balanced and of significant benefit to the important needs of the state of Israel. One wonders, naturally, what factors helped Israel reach this agreement. Turkey's needs are a critical factor, as described above, and there are rumors to the effect that Israel was the go between in the easing of the antagonism between Russia and Turkey with respect to the Russian aircraft downed by Turkey. It is not farfetched to assume that Saudi Arabia contributed to the rapprochement between Turkey and Israel as well, and perhaps even the US added its blessing to the nascent agreement. With all that,  the agreement is mainly a result of the extremely successful management of the negotiation process that brought it about.

Factors in the successful negotiations

The agreement signed this week is a result of long term negotiations that took place behind the scenes, and during which the negotiating team stuck strictly to three main points;

The first and most important point is that Israel gave the Turkish side the feeling that it is not in great need of an agreement with that country. Israel's situation has greatly improved over the past few years because of Syria's disintegration and the Syrian Army's disappearance from the list of strategic threats to Israel. Hezbollah is also mired in the Lebanese swamp and in the near future poses no threat to Israel. Israel therefore needs Turkey much less than it used to in the past and would only sign an agreement that benefited the Jewish state.

The second point, a derivative of the firs,t is that message that Israel is not in any rush to reach an agreement, Israel has allt ;he time in the world and is not willing to pay any price for an "agreement now."

Third, Israel never announced what it is willing to grant Turkey, because in the Middle East, if either negotiating party announces that he is willing to give up on something, this is considered a done thing, and the negotiations will be over the other things which he does not want to give up on. He will, however, be forced to concede them if he wants to reach an agreement. Unfortunately, there are too many Israelis who announce the concessions they are willing to make for peace with the Palestinian Arabs, the Syrians and the rest of our sworn enemies – and they do this endlessly, night and day,  and from every possible podium including the media, this without even asking what the other side is willing to pay.

In this case, the Israeli delegation acted properly, did not publicly give up on anything before the negotiations, did not give the impression that Israel needs an agreement and did not try to reach one by a set date. The Turks realiezd that they were going to have to pay in hard currency for an agreement, and they did, most especially with regard to the blockade on Gaza.

In conclusion, one can say that the agreement is a good one, and that the way in which it was reached must be studied and applied to other negotiations with other adversaries. All that is left to ensure is that the Turkish side acts with integrity and keeps the agreement to which it is a signator exactly as written, elucidated and intended to be understood, and as my late father would have said: With decent people there is no need for a contract, but with those who lack integrity a contract will be of no use.."

Written for Arutz Sheva, translated from the Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky, Oped and Judaism editor.