Lebanese schoolchildren wave Lebanese and Turkish flags. As Turkey snuggles up with its Arab neighbours and Iran, Israel is seeking a new parternship with Balkan states. (Reuters)
Following recent Turkish attempts to redraw its regional alliances, Israel now looks to bolster relations with nations less critical of its policy.
Over the past year, the world has witnessed the spectacle of deteriorating Turkish-Israeli relations. The fallout due to Israeli aggression in Gaza, followed by a series of diplomatic tribulations, reached a new low after the Turkish Gaza-bound flotilla incident which caused the death of nine activists.
As Turkey reassess its diplomatic agenda, classifying Israel as a threat, and seemingly warming up to Iran, the once robust strategic partnership looks to be on thin ice. The realignment involves freezing an arms deal with Israel, ceasing military collaboration and severing cooperative ties with the Mossad.
With an ambitious militia on its northern border, an uncompromising Syria and a distant but public enemy in Iran, Israel’s presence in the region is percieved as exasperating by most political actors.
According to Israeli daily Haaretz, Israel looks to the Balkans to compensate for Turkey’s abandonment. This development includes diplomatic visits and will likely extend to shared intelligence, joint military drills and tourism.
In October, Meir Degan head of Mossad paid an unusually publicised visit to Bulgaria. The meeting with Prime Minister Boyko Borisov was "reportedly satisfactory" and followed Israeli President Shimon Peres’ state trip to Sofia and Bucharest, aimed at strengthening bilateral relations with the two Balkan states.
"Unlike the past, Borisov decided in favour of cooperation with Israel. Immediately after his election he visited Jerusalem, the first visit of a Bulgarian prime minister for the past 18 years," says Israel's ambassador to Bulgaria, Noah Gal-Gendler.
It was suggested that the Israeli Air Force be able to use Bulgarian bases and air space for drills due to commence soon.
The flotilla incident also opened the way for Greece to make a new move, eager to replace Turkey and its relationship with Israel. Greece-Turkey relations have fluctuating as a result of the disputed island of Cyprus and closer Greek ties with Israel could be disruptive. Netanyahu has hailed the Israeli rapprochement saying the two states are “opening a new chapter.”
In addition to joint military drills, Greece and Bulgaria hope to attract Israeli tourists whose destination had previously been Turkey.
As for Israel’s new gaze, according to AUC assistant professor Kareem Kamel, it is consistent with earlier behaviour. “When Israel finds a new antagonist in the region it attempts to isolate it by establishing a ring of alliances around it,” he said. “It is trying to isolate Turkey.”
“Israel’s ‘periphery policy’ has been attempted earlier” with the Arabs when it befriended Iran during the Shah’s reign, as Kamel explained.
Oded Eran of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University noted in a recent paper, highlighted by the BBC, that "perhaps the neo-Hellenist option (Greece) does not fully replace the strategic assets lost with the disintegration of the neo-Ottoman option (Turkey), but it embodies interesting potential that is well worth cultivating".
Nevertheless, even if Israel reinforces ties with the West and strengthens its Balkan links, losing Turkey is quite detrimental considering the latter’s significant geographic position.