Israel’s foreign minister and head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, Avigdor Lieberman, is reportedly blocking the sales of Israeli arms to Turkey. Lieberman has been prone to dramatic behavior in the past, and his credentials as a hardliner cannot be disputed, but this decision takes him to a whole new plain: the plain of foolishness. I try to take alternative perspectives, to see this through his eyes, and it still doesn’t make sense. Israel and Turkey have a longstanding security relationship, including extensive arms deals. The flotilla incident last summer caused a major public falling-out between the two states, but the security cooperation continued without trouble. Still, some on the Israeli right see Turkey as having made a dramatic Islamist turn in recent years, and see no daylight between the governing Justice and Development Party and the Muslim Brotherhood or similar movements. To them, Turkey’s public reaction to the flotilla incident negated the private nonreaction. To them, cooperation with Turkey is cooperation with a country that is a non-friend at best.
We cannot deny that Turkey’s “Arab Turn” will lead to divergences of interest. Turkey is cozy with Syria and tried (with Brazil) to help Iran mend its differences with the IAEA. Turkey cannot go too deeply into the Arab world without facing questions about its ties with Israel, and without being forced to feign interest in the Palestinian cause. However, Turkey is playing a double game and keeping the back channels with Israel wide open. Israel has a chance to use its formidable arms industry to repair any damage to the relationship that wasn’t superficial. Avigdor Lieberman’s confused image of that relationship could seriously hinder those repairs.