Daniel W. Drezner

Foreign policy from the gut

The Christian Science Monitor‘s Yigal Schliefer reports on a less-than-productive meeting between Israel and Turkey: A diplomatic spat is threatening to worsen Israel’s strained relations with Turkey, traditionally one of its most important allies in the region. The rift exposes growing Israeli frustration with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who in a bid to increase ...

The Christian Science Monitor's Yigal Schliefer reports on a less-than-productive meeting between Israel and Turkey:

A diplomatic spat is threatening to worsen Israel’s strained relations with Turkey, traditionally one of its most important allies in the region. The rift exposes growing Israeli frustration with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who in a bid to increase Turkey’s regional standing has increasingly spoken out against Israel.

This latest crisis included a showdown at Israel’s Foreign Ministry, where Turkey’s ambassador was summoned to explain Mr. Erdogan’s recent harsh criticism, as well as a TV show that portrayed Israeli intelligence agents holding a woman and her baby hostage.

The Christian Science Monitor‘s Yigal Schliefer reports on a less-than-productive meeting between Israel and Turkey:

A diplomatic spat is threatening to worsen Israel’s strained relations with Turkey, traditionally one of its most important allies in the region. The rift exposes growing Israeli frustration with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who in a bid to increase Turkey’s regional standing has increasingly spoken out against Israel.

This latest crisis included a showdown at Israel’s Foreign Ministry, where Turkey’s ambassador was summoned to explain Mr. Erdogan’s recent harsh criticism, as well as a TV show that portrayed Israeli intelligence agents holding a woman and her baby hostage.

Breaking with diplomatic protocol, Israeli officials failed to include the customary Turkish flag on the table between them and the Turkish ambassador, whom they seated on a low couch. To rub it in, they instructed the press members in attendance to note that they were sitting in higher chairs and the usual diplomatic niceties were conspicuously absent.

“The message was, ‘We’ve had enough,’” says Ephraim Inbar, an expert on Turkey-Israel relations at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University. “Erdogan has taken things too far. It might have not been the best treatment for an ambassador, but it came from the gut. The signal is that we’re not going to take it anymore.” (emphasis added)

Yes, because heaping petty humiliations on another country will always shift their attitude in a more favorable direction.

Beyond Erdogan’s statements — which, from the Israeli perspective, are probably infuriating — the proximate motivation for the meeting appears to be the depiction of Israelis on a 24-style show broadcast in Turkey.   Let me repeat that — the Israeli Foreign Ministry is cheesed off about a Turkish television show. 

So, is this just Israeli overreaction?  Stupidity?  According to Ha’aretz’s Barak Ravid, it’s a bit more complicated than that

Senior officials in his own ministry say Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is trying to foil the scheduled visit of Defense Minister Ehud Barak to Ankara following renewed tensions in relations between the two countries. Barak is scheduled to travel to Turkey on Sunday for an official visit in which he will meet with Turkey’s defense and foreign ministers….

"There’s a feeling Lieberman wants to heat things up before Barak’s visit to Turkey," a senior Foreign Ministry official said. "Everything that took place yesterday was part of Lieberman’s political agenda."

This raises a very troubling question:  what does it say about the state of Israel’s body politic that Avigdor Lieberman thinks he can enhance his political position by snubbing one of the few semi-friendly countries in the region? 

UPDATE:  This was such a picayune slight that I’m sure it will all blow over.  Oh, wait….

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. He blogged regularly for Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2014. Twitter: @dandrezner

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