In recent weeks, relations between Turkey and Israel have thawed little, despite hostile statements by their leaders. Decision-makers in both countries are trying to get the relationship out of the depths through the media and also through political and security channels.
Behind the serious consideration of normalizing their relations probably lies their belief that bilateral relations are important for the security and stability of the region. They also believe that differences can be minimized if there is mutual understanding on bilateral and regional issues. It remains so even though they have not had significant diplomatic relations since 2018, following Turkish protests over the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem, and the brutal Israeli response to the large return march demonstrations along the nominal border in Gaza. To return to Tel Aviv In December 2020, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that he was interested in improving relations with Israel, but stressed that the Palestinian issue was a red line for him.
When the ambassadors respectively returned to Ankara and Tel Aviv, the latest Israeli aggression against the Palestinians in Gaza erupted in May last year, and Erdogan issued a series of anti-Israel messages. In June, however, the first conversation took place between Erdogan and his Israeli counterpart, Isaac Herzog, and Turkey sent a cultural attaché to Israel for the first time in a decade. The latter reacted hesitantly, as it is not clear to what extent there is a Turkish desire to turn a page in their relations, and whether this is an attempt to sabotage only the close relations between Israel, Greece and Cyprus.
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Relationship thaws should be seen in the context of Israel’s efforts to normalize relations throughout the Middle East. Turkey is doing the same. To date, two rounds of talks have taken place with Egypt to prepare for the return of ambassadors to Ankara and Cairo. There is even an interesting development in the restoration of relations with the UAE, although Ankara believed that Abu Dhabi was a key factor in the failed coup attempt in 2016.
Despite the deterioration in political relations between Israel and Turkey in the last decade, economic ties have grown, with two-thirds of trade between them consisting of exports from Turkey to Israel. In 2019, half a million Israeli tourists visited Turkey, a number similar to that recorded before the 2010 Israeli abduction Blue Marmara And the rest of the Freedom Flotilla leaving for Gaza with humanitarian aid. The importance and value of Israeli relations increased during the Turkish economic downturn. Israel believed that economic ties could form the basis for improving relations with Turkey.
Both Turkey and Israel have close relations with Azerbaijan. For Israel, Azerbaijan is a strategic ally in the Cold War against Iran, and an important energy supplier. In the fall of 2020, when Azerbaijan used Israeli and Turkish weapons to defeat Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, this was where Israel and Turkey indirectly cooperated.
Despite this, there are still many points of friction between Ankara and Tel Aviv, including Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, as well as its activities in East Jerusalem, where it funds the restoration of historic sites and the opening of cultural institutions. In response, Israel supports Greece and Cyprus, which is troubling Turkey when it comes to critical security issues in the eastern Mediterranean and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. This places obstacles in the way of real improvement in relations with Israel.
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Moreover, Ankara’s condemnation of Israeli aggression against Gaza last year was a reminder of the fragility of its relations with the occupied state, as Erdogan took every possible opportunity to mention the importance of the Palestinian issue. Thus, any escalation in occupied Palestine could damage ties between Ankara and Tel Aviv. It should also be borne in mind that Turkish politics is generally unanimous in its opposition to Israel, perhaps because the political influence of the Turkish armed forces has weakened. The army was once an important pro-Israel factor.
In 2016, when e Blue Marmara Crisis has come to an end, Israel has found it necessary to transfer natural gas through Turkey to Europe. It did not help its relations with Greece, but in any case Israeli diplomats felt that it was better for Israel to emphasize the benefits of restoring relations with Turkey, leading to ambassadorial exchanges, strengthening strategic dialogue with Syria and Iran, raising trade and tourism, expanding political and civilian cooperation and seeking Turkish assistance. To an agreement with the Palestinians.
However, at a time when messages continue to be exchanged between Turkey and Israel, there are some left in the occupied state who believe that this rapprochement should not be at the expense of the Israel-Greece-Cyprus triangle. This alliance allows Israel to search for gas more widely in the eastern Mediterranean. This has the potential for even greater profit and increased political influence for Tel Aviv with Turkey’s neighbors.
Will Herzog accept Erdogan’s invitation to visit Turkey? And does the Turkish leader’s last meeting with Jewish rabbis send positive signals about the development of relations with Israel? We’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, the Israelis are trying to decide whether Turkey under Erdogan has changed its view of Israel for strategic purposes, or whether it is just repositioning itself tactically.
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