Israelis must avoid Turkey until couple is released: analysis

Don’t go to Turkey.

This should be the government’s message to all Israelis if the Turkish authorities do not immediately release the Israeli couple Natali and Mordy Oaknin from custody for allegedly spying because they took a photo of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s palace from one tower to the other. side of the street.

And if that’s not enough for the Turks to free the couple, then other, more strident actions should be considered.

Among them: embarking on a campaign in other countries – the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany – warning of what awaits tourists to Turkey if they take a selfie in front of a building whose sensitivity they do not know; sanctioning Turkish “charitable” organizations that undermine Israel’s sovereignty in East Jerusalem; even banning flights to and from Turkey.

Israel must send a message to Ankara that this type of behavior simply cannot be tolerated and that there is a price to pay. Because if Jerusalem doesn’t act decisively here, then the Oaknins may end up sitting for months in a Turkish jail cell, just like Naama Issachar sat in a Russian jail for 10 months in 2019-2020, and was sentenced to 7.5 years. for having about nine grams of marijuana in his luggage on a return trip from India to Israel via Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin wasn’t necessarily looking for an Israeli to hold when Issachar fell into his lap, but once he did, he used her as leverage with Israel in an apparent effort to prevent Jerusalem from extraditing Russian hacker Aleksey. Burkov to the US (the Superior Court of Justice eventually ordered Burkov’s extradition).

Naama Issachar meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after his release, January 30, 2020 (credit: courtesy)

The price Israel paid for Issachar’s release (Putin pardoned her just before the March 2020 elections) was never made public, but speculation was widespread, from handing over church property in the Old City to Russia, changing the route of the planned. light rail at Ein Kerem to skirt Russian church property, handing over parts of the “Russian Complex” in Jerusalem to Moscow, or perhaps reducing IAF actions at the time over Syrian airspace.

Erdogan is apparently now pulling a page out of Putin’s playbook. If Israel does not crack down on ending it, who knows when it will be able to do so again: just three weeks ago, the Turks announced that they had arrested a Mossad cell of 15 non-Israeli Arabs working with Mossad. 15 men in October, an Israeli couple in November, who knows what December will bring.

Two years ago, when Issachar was finally released and flew back to Israel on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plane, these lines were written in the Jerusalem Post:

“Could the way Israel responded to Issachar whet the appetite of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, or some unsavory and hostile figure in the Jordanian government to catch an Israeli traveler to use as a lever for something they want from Jerusalem? ? “

You didn’t have to be an oracle to make that prediction. And Erdogan wants a lot from Jerusalem. He wants a foothold on the Temple Mount and he also wants easements for Gaza for which he wants the credit. His entire long reign in power has been an effort to appear as the defender and protector of the Palestinians and Jerusalem to gain stature in the Arab and Muslim world.

And sometimes it has worked wonderfully. In 2009 he was viewed as a hero in much of the Arab world after storming out of a joint appearance with President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos after Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. In 2010, he took advantage of the Mavi Marmara incident to gain even greater popularity in the Muslim world.

Erdogan has also honed his attack on Israel into an art form ahead of Turkey’s national and municipal elections, and criticizing Israel and Jews is often a tell-tale sign under Erdogan that elections are around the corner. the corner.

As then-Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi put it in 2014, Erdogan and other senior officials in his party employ the “manipulative and populist tactic of insulting Jews” before every election.

And the elections are now so far away: June 2023. After serving now for some 19 years as Turkey’s strongman, Erdogan is limping towards those elections, with his party’s popularity down roughly 30%, down 10%. than during the last elections in 2019.

Unemployment is at 10%, inflation at nearly 20% and the lira fell to record lows against the dollar on Thursday, losing two-thirds of its value in the past five years and pushing thousands of Turks below the threshold of poverty.

In short, Erdogan’s political situation is precarious. What better way to divert attention than to arrest Israeli “spies” month after month.

But Israel need not serve as a scapegoat for turkeys; Turkey may also lose if it gets involved in a diplomatic dispute with Israel.

First, with its economy reeling, Turkey enjoyed a $ 2 billion trade surplus with Israel in the first nine months of this year. Furthermore, Israelis, at least until the Oaknin were arrested, were traveling to Turkey, a not insignificant component of Turkey’s tourism industry. In 2019, prior to COVID-19, Israel ranked 16th on the list of tourists feeding Turkey from the country. And in October, Turkey was the second most popular destination for Israeli travelers, after the United States.

Of the 383,000 Israelis who left the country last month, 11.5% went to Turkey. The Israeli tourism trade is not going to make or break the Turkish economy, but with the economy in trouble and the coronavirus wreaking havoc on the tourism industry, Turkish merchants who rely on Israelis definitely do not want to lose that part of the market.

This is the reason why the threat of strongly warning tourists not to go to Turkey should be used if the Okanin stick around for much longer.

It will not be enough to issue a travel warning against travel to Turkey: in fact, such a warning has been in effect since 2017, but it is widely ignored.

Turkey is currently listed by the counterterrorism office of the National Security Council as a country where there is a “high concrete threat” to Israelis, one of 16 countries with this classification, along with states such as Algeria, Lebanon, Pakistan and Tunisia. . .

Of the five threat levels, this is the second highest. The highest threat level are countries in the “very high concrete threat” category, which includes states such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

Despite the travel advisory in effect with respect to Turkey, thousands of Israelis, including a large number of Israeli Arabs, are still booking packages for the country, confident that the type of concrete threat that Turkey’s counterterrorism unit is warning against NSC, terrorism, will. pass over them.

However, since last week, terrorism is not the only threat facing Israelis in Turkey. Now they are also facing actions by the Turkish authorities themselves, and that is something against which the Israeli government has a responsibility to warn its citizens if the Oaknin affair is not resolved soon: do not go to Turkey because you may be arbitrarily detained by government. police and jailed on trumped-up “espionage” charges.

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