U.S. President Barack Obama helped orchestrate the Israel-Turkey reconciliation. A made-for-media phone call and apology, from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, publicly sealed a deal U.S., Turkish and Israeli diplomats had pursued since the May 2010 Gaza flotilla incident.
In that fiasco, Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish ship attempting to run Israel's Gaza blockade. A fight ensued between the ship's hard-core activists, who were seeking a confrontation, and the commandos. Nine activists were killed. The incident scuttled Turkish and Israeli political relations.
Syria's tragedy, however, spurred restitution and resolution. Israel and Turkey both border on Syria, and they face a common threat: a Pandora's box of terrorists would exploit a fragmented Syria. They both fight shadow wars with Iran, which backs Syria's Assad dictatorship. The Assad regime wages perpetual war with Israel. Since early 2011, when Syria's rebellion erupted, for all practical purposes the regime has been at war with Turkey.
Cynics assert that Israel traded the apology for permission to overfly Turkish airspace when its jets attack Iran's nuclear targets. Obtaining a tactical advantage didn't drive this deal; demonstrating strategic partnership when confronting regional problems did.
Syria's convulsions may have influenced Turkey's Kurdish separatists. Kurds live in four countries: Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Since August 1984, Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) guerrillas have fought the Turks. Check the Cold War date and the "workers' party" label. The Soviet Union used the PKK as a tool for destabilizing Turkey, NATO's southern flank. Soviet ally Syria provided supplies. The PKK built bases on another Soviet ally's territory, Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
However, communism didn't motivate the PKK's recruits. They wanted an independent Kurdistan, cut from southeastern Turkey. Eventually it might include northern Iraq, a slice of Iran and Syria's northeastern corner.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Syria, Iran and Iraq used the PKK to harass Turkey. Iran's dictatorship co-opted its Kurdish separatists. Last year, Turkey all but accused Iran of perpetuating the PKK insurgency.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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