The revival of Turkey-Israel diplomatic ties

The two countries, formerly close regional allies, Israel and Turkey, are reestablishing full diplomatic ties with each other after a four-year thaw in relations. Following more than a decade of animosity, the trips of both foreign ministers and Israeli President Isaac Herzog to Turkey in March helped to improve relations. After years of conflict, both sides will appoint ambassadors once more. The reestablishment of diplomatic ties between Ankara and Tel Aviv has been hailed by officials from both nations as a huge milestone. It was the result of lengthy discussions. When Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid visited Ankara in June, both nations’ foreign ministers reaffirmed their plans to reappoint their ambassadors. The nomination of ambassadors, according to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, was “one of the steps for the normalization of ties,” he told reporters in Ankara. According to him, Israel has taken a “such a positive move, and as a result of these efforts, and as Turkey, we also decided to nominate an ambassador to Israel, to Tel Aviv.” In addition to increasing regional stability, improving relations will help to enhance bonds between the two peoples and to expand economic, trade, and cultural linkages.

Following a call between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on August 17, the statement  was made. According to separate readouts from the two sides, Erdogan said the necessary measures to designate the ambassador will be taken as soon as feasible, and Lapid said the ties’ development would result in successes in commerce and tourism.

History of Israel-Turkey Relations:

After a fatal confrontation in 2010 between Israeli commandos and Turkish activists on a passenger ship that attempted to evade Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian coastal territory controlled by the Islamist militant group Hamas, Turkey, once Israel’s closest ally in the Muslim world and a significant trading partner, severed diplomatic ties with Israel. When Israeli naval commandos rappelled onto the deck of the ship, the Mavi Marmara, transporting aid to Gaza, they were confronted with violent resistance and killed nine protestors. A tenth activist later succumbed to his injuries. Israeli-Turkish relations have seen ups and downs recently, despite the restoration of some sort of diplomatic ties. In 2016, when Israel agreed to contribute around $20 million to a fund to compensate the relatives of those killed on the Mavi Marmara, the two nations resumed full diplomatic ties.

The Israeli officers involved in the altercation were not further pursued by Turkey following the withdrawal of those accusations. Israel likewise requested that the Turkish government stop any assaults planned against it by Hamas agents based there. However, that thaw was brief. With President Donald J. Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2017, things took a turn for the worse.

On numerous occasions, Mr. Erdogan has defended the Palestinian cause and sharply criticised Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. After Israeli troops killed 60 Palestinian demonstrators during clashes along the Gaza border fence in May 2018, on the day the US relocated its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, he compared Israel to Nazi Germany and accused the Israelis of genocide. Turkey ordered Israel’s ambassador to leave the country following the border clashes and killings, and Tel Aviv called the Turkish envoy back “for discussions.” After a few hours, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said that it had summoned the Turkish consul general to Jerusalem and advised him to leave Israel “for a while” and return to his homeland. High-level diplomatic representation was absent for a little more than four years.

Despite the recent political tensions, trade had continued, and Israel’s tourist continued to flock to Turkey. Israel issued a warning to its residents in June to come home, citing an Iranian murder attempt on Israeli citizens in Istanbul. Lapid subsequently expressed his gratitude to Ankara for working with him on the matter, and Israelis quickly resumed their vacations in Turkey.

Significance of ties for both states:

Analysts claimed that economic and security concerns were at play in the rekindling of relations between the two nations. The presidential election will take place in a year in Turkey. Ankara wants to entice investment from neighbouring nations, but with inflation reaching more than 70 percent. Additionally, Syria and the eastern Mediterranean region have security challenges. In a region where Iran poses a threat, Turkey sees Israel as a powerful player, and Israel views Turkey as a stabilising force .

Turkey might benefit  greatly from closer ties with Israel. Already, business ties are growing. With a record-breaking $8.4 billion in bilateral commerce last year—a 35 percent increase increase—Turkey sees a chance to advance its commercial interests. As the US leaves the region, Ankara has the chance to win over a regional player and get the pro-Israel lobby in Washington off its back. Despite not exchanging ambassadors since 2018, other diplomatic channels have been effective.

The Israeli leadership is satisfied that Turkey is an objective player that acts in accordance with its interests rather than ideological viewpoints as a result of a year of covert intelligence cooperation between Israel and Turkey. Ankara is of the opinion that certain operations, such as the failure of attempts on the lives of Israelis in Turkey and other parts of the area, provided demonstrable proof that it was capable of providing and had the means to meet its own security demands without foreign assistance.

According to experts, during the events that first took place in Nogorno-karabagh in 2020 and then in Afghanistan in 2021, all sides discovered value in their relationships and motivation to improve them. Due to their shared ally Azerbaijan, Turkey and Israel found themselves cooperating to support it by providing military equipment that Baku used to drive Armenian soldiers out of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Turkish and Israeli authorities have both stated that one of the main reasons for their relationship to be repaired is the possibility of sending Israeli gas to Turkey through a pipeline in the eastern Mediterranean.

Hamas, the Palestinian resistance movement that controls the Gaza Strip, has long been a particularly contentious issue between Turkey and Israel. Turkey disagrees with Israel’s classification of Hamas as a terrorist organisation. Israel stated last year that before beginning negotiations for reconciliation, it would like to see Ankara take some action to counter the presence of Hamas officials in Turkey. Turkey declined, though, continuing to have ties with the organisation and hosting some of its officials in Istanbul. An overt backstep was made when a senior Israeli official informed the Jerusalem Post early this year that they had no preconditions on Hamas this time. Turkish officials point out that many of the Hamas leaders Turkey received were part of agreements Israel made with Hamas.

According to the government source, “Turkey’s attitude toward Hamas has not changed.” “Turkey will continue to forbid Hamas from carrying out attacks in Israel. And that’s the situation since years.

Where lies the “Palestinian cause”:

Turkey has been a strong proponent of the Palestinian cause for many years. Approximately 400 years were spent under Turkish rule over the Palestinian territory. Turkey strengthened its support for the PLO, recognised the Palestinian state, and aggressively pushed for its independence in 1998. Ankara stressed that it will not be giving up on the Palestinian cause while rekindling its ties with Israel. Turkey has made a point of highlighting the potential benefits for the Palestinian people from its normalisation with Israel. The Turkish foreign minister visited the Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem while he was in Israel to show support with Palestine. As we have previously stated, we’ll keep fighting for the  right of Palestinians , according to Cavusoglu. Cavosoglu clarified, “A two-state solution with conditions is the best way to achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East. The reestablishment of normal relations will help the conflict be resolved amicably. Turkey is willing to accept responsibility for continuing its efforts to dialogue. Turkey has had close links with both Hamas, which controls Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank.

According to Basem Naim, a member of Hamas’ senior leadership, the organisation “condemned” any efforts made to deepen ties with Israel.

In the 1967 war, Israel took control of East Jerusalem and annexed it in a move that went largely unnoticed by the rest of the world. East Jerusalem  is home to Jewish, Christian, and Muslim holy sites and serves as the emotional epicentre of the more than century-long conflict. The capital of a future state that includes the West Bank and Gaza Strip has frequently been sought for by the Palestinian leadership as being East Jerusalem.

The nature of relationships with a past as rich as ours requires us to acknowledge in advance that we will not always agree on everything, Herzog said. However, he added, “the differences we will strive to resolve with mutual respect and openness, through the appropriate channels and institutions, with a view to a common future.”

Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and Ankara have a tight relationship. Hamas has been classified as a “terrorist” organisation by the US and EU. Additionally, despite obviously easing up on its criticism of Israel prior to Herzog’s visit, Ankara has ruled out renouncing its support for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Israeli-Turkish relations won’t be as strong as they were in the 1990s, according to Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security. Because of Erdogan’s ties to Islamism, Turkey will continue to have some animosity toward Israel as long as he is in office. He told AFP that he “will continue to assist organisations like Hamas.”

But the Palestinians have heard this before. Every Muslim nation that has improved its ties with Israel has pledged to work toward peace, but it is still elusive.

Hadia Ibrar
Hadia Ibrar
Peace and conflict student studying at National Defence University.