On Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced Israel as a “terrorist state”. Whether you find yourself nodding or shaking your head in response, take a moment to consider those words.
This judgment did not come from predictable quarters: from Syria’s soldiers, Iran’s mullahs, or even Saudi royals. Turkey is a moderate Muslim democracy, a member of Nato, one that has traditionally protected constructive relations with Israel. And Mr Erdogan did not simply denounce a particular Israeli action, as he did in 2010 following an Israeli raid on a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza.
He labeled Israel itself as a source of terrorism.
What’s truly new about Israelis and Palestinians exchanging fire? It isn’t Israeli politics. Early elections are on the way, and there are few signs that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a serious leadership challenge. Nor is it the increasing number and accuracy of rockets fired by Hamas and its Al-Qassam brigades.
It is the surrounding landscape that has changed. The immediate neighbors are the first worry. Egypt’s embattled civilian leaders have little incentive to give Israel any breathing room. The same can be said for Jordan, and Israel has very few friends on any side of Syria’s grinding civil war. In fact, governments in the Middle East, even those that are relatively stable, must worry about public opinion as never before. And outside the US, it’s getting hard to find a country in which public opinion remains on Israel’s side.
That’s why it is especially worrying that Israel is behaving as if none of this matters. For the near term, perhaps it doesn’t. Though Hamas has managed to stockpile a substantial number of increasingly sophisticated weapons, Israel plainly has the means to restore order-with brute force where necessary-and its “Iron Dome” anti-missile system will hold. Hamas will fight on knowing that its forces are overmatched.
But on the international stage, this conflict and the response it has provoked from moderate governments like Turkey’s are game-changers. There are no longer persuadable partners in the region.
Washington will defend its old friend. President Obama has made crystal clear that Israel’s operations in Gaza have his full support. Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, is expected to travel to the region today. Yet, the US is not the power looking to become more active in the Middle East in years to come. That country is China, a still-emerging power that has no cultural and ideological ties with Israel to protect as it looks to ensure the steady long-term flow of crude oil.
For all these reasons, it has never been more important for Israel’s long-term security for Israelis leaders to build and protect a workable peace with Palestinians. Sadly, after years of diplomatic inaction and now another surge of deadly violence, that peace looks more remote than ever.
The writer is the president of Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, and author of ‘Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World’