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Whose side will Turkey take in an Arab-Israeli face off?

One needs to assess all the strategic factors Turkey will consider, including its energy interests and relationship with Israel

Ceylan Ozbudak

Published: Updated:

This week, as the Arab-Israeli peace talks continue, Hamas and Fatah agreed to a unity government and announced that it will take form in five weeks. Israel was livid and broke off negotiations. Northern Gaza was targeted shortly after the announcement.

This wasn’t all: Washington expressed dissatisfaction and all eyes turned to see what would be the next steps in the ever-simmering situation.

As analysts started to speculate about potential intensifying tensions, questions have arisen about Turkey’s possible stance in such a scenario. To analyze this correctly, one needs to assess all the strategic factors Turkey will be calculating while approaching this subject.

Turkey energy ambitions

The ongoing tensions in Ukraine and mounting European concerns over energy security only add to the importance of Turkey as an economically and politically stable alternative pipeline route, which could carry more of the much-needed Russian, Caspian and Middle Eastern resources to Europe.

Turkey’s energy minister Taner Yıldız recently announced that Northern Iraqi oil will soon be flowing through Turkey’s pipelines, which is going to complete the energy crescent starting in Russia and encircling the Persian Gulf. Turkey's largest oil pipeline by capacity - the 1,000km-long Kirkuk-Ceyhan line - serves as a transport pipeline for Iraqi oil and consists of two lines with a capacity of 1.65 million barrels per day.

The Cyprus issue, which has been needing a resolution since 1942, is seemingly on the verge of coming to a successful conclusion. The presence of vast natural gas reserves in Eastern Mediterranean waters, and the deal reached between Tel Aviv and the Nicosia government, boosted the need for peace in the geopolitical dynamics.

Turkey showcases a unique approach in Middle Eastern diplomacy by using phones rather than drones. A new brush sweeps clean but old broom knows all corners.

Ceylan Ozbudak

The Nicosia government can certainly no longer depend on Greek financial aid – Greece is in no position to even help itself. A Turkey-bound pipeline seems to be the most feasible option to export the natural gas and for energy projects to be economically feasible, Turkey seeks a region-wide integrated approach for Eastern Mediterranean gas.

Such prospects, in addition to other considerations, may have played a facilitating role in the process leading to Israel’s official apology and the acceptance of compensation to Turkey. Turkish energy company Turcas Petrol said on Tuesday it is negotiating together with another Turkish company, EnerjiSa, to buy natural gas from Israel’s Leviathan field.

The sides are discussing a 20-year contract for about seven billion cubic meters of gas a year, a deal which would be worth billions of dollars over its lifespan and dwarf all the bids Israel has thus far been working on. Turkey, which currently buys 59% of its natural gas imports from Russia, will not lose its upper hand in Mediterranean energy diplomacy by taking sides in a potential Arab-Israeli tension.

Turkey's stance on Israel

Being one of the first countries in the world to recognize the State of Israel in 1948, Turkey has long enjoyed close ties with its Mediterranean neighbor. Even though in discourse Turkey has used harsh language towards Israel in times of conflict, in practice, the two countries never truly fell out.

Turkey’s conscientious criticisms of some policies of the Israeli governments did not differ in style or content with those directed towards any Muslim or European governments. Turkey has never taken part in the North African or Arab countries fashion of anti-Israel sentiments. When we look at the history, we see that Ba'ath pan-Arabism, the source of anti-Israeli sentiments, reached its peak when Gamal Abdel Nasser took power in Egypt in the 1952 coup d’état.

Nasser was proclaimed as the leader of the Arab world and was seen as embodying the aspirations of the pan-Arab citizens of the region and standing up to the new Jewish State of Israel. In the pan-Arabist ideology, apart from the matter of Arab identity, the principle which united the citizens of these newly independent nations was opposition to the establishment of the State of Israel.

This message was used by Ba'athist regimes to effectively subordinate all other concerns in the public, including any attempts at local political reform or economic development. Turkey, however, kept itself free of this illogical hostility while still seeking the rights of Palestinian people on the international platform.

The Turkish Republic paid more attention to developing pluralistic systems of government, building systems of checks and balances on executive power or promoting the rich diversity of its population. Even though Turkey experienced a fall out with the Israeli government following the Mavi Marmara incident, both parties overcame the confrontation through diplomacy.

Furthermore, Turkey kept generous humanitarian aid channels open for the Palestinian authorities and won the hearts of the Palestinian people while making new diplomatic and military deals with Israel at the same time.

Thanks to warming ties, and in a positive diplomatic gesture to Turkey, Israel is allowing construction materials and medical supplies from Turkey into the Gaza Strip, an area under strict blockade. Turkish- sponsored universities, hospitals and orphanages in the Palestinian territory deliver a steady stream of humanitarian aid to the area.

Syrian civil war

In addition to all of this, both Turkey and Israel have a very complicated civil war on their borders. The Syrian tragedy has made both countries put aside their differences and tackle the humanitarian crisis together at times.

President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal war has destabilized the government in Lebanon, drawn Iran’s special forces into Syria, isolated Iraq’s government from its Sunni citizens, forced Israel to enter Syrian territory from the Golan Heights, and sent an overwhelming amount of refugees into Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon.

The entire region is being affected by Assad’s war. The message is clear: this is a joint problem. In the midst of such a massive problem, neither Turkey nor Israel would like to lose an ally with solid military might in the region.

Looking at the delicate balances in the region, one might consider it almost impossible not to take sides in a potential Arab-Israeli tension.

However, we are talking about a country which has managed to increase its trade and tourism with Russia despite being on opposite sides in the Syrian civil war, which came closer to Iran in terms of diplomacy despite tensions stemming from Syria and the United States, a nation that accommodates the residents of both Iran and Israel without the need for visas and enjoys a special bond with the Palestinians despite carrying out joint military exercises with Israel.

Turkey thus showcases a unique approach in Middle Eastern diplomacy by using phones rather than drones. A new brush sweeps clean but old broom knows all corners.

Young diplomats of today may find Turkey’s foreign policy difficult to understand but let’s not forget Turkey stands on the experience of Ottoman Empire, which lasted for 650 years. In a potential Arab-Israeli face-off, Turkey will most likely choose to tackle the issue through back-door diplomacy and not take a solid side in the conflict.

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Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.