U.S. should learn lessons from Turkish crisis with Israel

Washington should learn lessons from a crisis between Turkey and Israel, in which nine Turks were killed by Israeli commandos on a boat bound for Gaza, when it considers how to deal with its NATO ally in a crisis over Syria, Gallia Lindenstrauss of the Bipartsan Policy Center said.

While the two situations may seem far removed, the deadly clash that followed Israel’s boarding of the Mavi Marmara vessel in 2010 was preceded by months of talks between Turkey and Israel and was in many respects the result of an accident, Lindenstrauss, a visiting fellow at BPC, said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has called on the United States to pull troops out of the Syrian region of Manbij or face a possible confrontation with Turkish soldiers currently battling Kurdish militants in neighbouring Afrin. Ankara says the People's Protection Forces (YPG) are indistinguishable from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which Turkey and the United States list as a terrorist group.

Turkey’s zero-sum thinking on U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in Syria is not far from its approach toward Israel, when it wanted the Jewish state to be confronted over its policies toward Hamas and Gaza. The Mavi Marmara crisis was preceded by serious cracks in Israeli-Turkish relations, similar to the fissures in ties between the United States and Turkey today, she said.

“The combination of threatening rhetoric and a zero-sum presentation of the problems in Turkish-U.S. relations is prone to result in a miscalculation,” Lindenstrauss said. “To avert this, the United States is wise to pursue discussions at the highest level with Turkey, but until a well-drafted and agreed upon solution to the question of Manbij is achieved, U.S. and Turkish policymakers should remain alert.”