Why Israel is outraged by Turkey's operation in northern Syria

Published 21.10.2019 01:45

Israeli officials and commentators have been outraged by President Donald Trump's unilateral decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria because the decision does not serve the long-term Israeli goals in the region.

The U.S. decision, which came ahead of Turkey's Operation Peace Spring against terrorist groups in northern Syria, was described by Israeli columnists as "stabbing Israel in the back."

Commenting on Israeli Channel 12's foreign affairs agenda, Israeli columnist Nadav Ayal said the U.S. withdrawal from Syria constituted "a very bad message to all U.S. allies in the region." He added that it was not clear whether the withdrawal was coordinated with Israel, but in fact, Trump "abandoned his Kurdish ally, the only effective force to fight President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Syria."

The Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth said in an editorial called Trump "a crumbling crutch for Israel, he can no longer be relied upon." It added, "There is a real fear that Iran will continue to defy us and we may be forced to repulse the ayatollahs without an American umbrella... Trump's recent statements and decisions are not just a knife in the back of the Kurds, but a knife in our back as well!"

The Israeli outrage was noticed not just on the lips of the columnists but many Israeli officials have also been extremely critical of Trump's decision and the Turkish operation. One of the most attention-grabbing remarks on this issue came from the Israeli former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who said any Kurdish state near the Turkish border is one of "Israel's big interests."

Shaked's view on a separatist state on Syrian borders with Turkey does not only reflect her colonial and substitutional mentality, but augurs of an old Israeli drive to ally with minorities to have unstable neighbors – more specifically, neighbors who may develop to become a regional power like Turkey. But why exactly do the Israelis see a strong, stable Turkey as a source of menace?

Firstly, a stable Turkey threatens Israel's false sense of superiority in the region. Israel has been bragging, for decades, that it is the one and only mature democracy in the region before the Turkish people managed to pass the most difficult exam in democracy. Turkish people took to the streets on July 15, 2016 to protect their democratic rights and choices. It made them approvingly respected around the world. That night made the Turkish democratic experience not only revered but admirable.

The second reason behind the Israeli desire of having a separatist state on Turkish borders is related to Turkey's mounting role and influence in the region. Turkey, since 2002, has been one of the most powerful voices supporting the Palestinian cause and played an effective role in many other causes in the Muslim world, including the Somalian cause, the crisis in Kashmir and the Uighurs. Keeping Turkey involved in endless wars on its borders will make it busy with its own issues and curb its increasing influence in the Islamic world in general and particularly in its region.

Undermining the gloss of the Turkish model is the third reason behind the Israeli support for the terrorist groups scattered along the Turkish borders with Syria. Turkey has recently proved itself as a successful model for not only the Arab countries – as it was promoted – but also for many developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Moreover, the development revolution Turkey spearheaded in the last decade has been taken as a lesson by many pro-change Islamic organizations worldwide. Turkey has also proved that peaceful change matters and bears fruit in internal politics. This kind of peaceful change annoys Israel, which has been seeking to demonize any and every Islamic group as "extremist and terrorist."

* Ph.D. student at Yıldırım Beyazıt University's Department of International Relations

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