Israel and Turkey: Old friends can’t be foes

With the latest situation in the Middle East and the ongoing Syrian situation, the countries need the partnership of each other maybe more than ever

Ceylan Ozbudak
Ceylan Ozbudak
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A new warmth is in the air for Turkey-Israel relations. This month, Israel took another step forward to secure a normalization process with Turkey by offering $20 to $23 million in compensation for the families of the nine Turkish nationals killed and wounded during the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident. This can lead to many further positive developments for both countries - and the region - in terms of security, economy and foreign policy.

When Yitzhak Rabin addressed the Knesset at his inaugural address of July 13, 1992 he said, “Israel is no longer a people that dwells alone, and has to join the global journey toward peace, reconciliation and international cooperation.” Therefore, it pleases us to see the State of Israel is taking his advice regarding the reconciliation process.

Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize the State of Israel in 1948 and the two countries always had close ties. They shared military agreements, intelligence, trade agreements and mutual diplomatic visits. Contrary to popular belief, Turkey had increasingly good relations with Israel. during the Justice and Development Party (AKP) era before 2009.

Until Prime Minister Erdoğan assumed office, Shimon Peres addressed the Turkish Parliament only once, but nine official visits had been made since 2005 during the AKP’s time in government.

The fellowship was broken after relations deteriorated in early 2009 following Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, and became worse in May 2010 after the flotilla incident.

Mutual gestures were made between Turkey and Israel even after the Mavi Marmara incident. Erdoğan was the first leader to send assistance to help fight a forest fire in Israel and Israel was the first country to respond to calls for help in the wake of the Van earthquake in Turkey in 2011 (right after the Mavi Marmara incident).

Also, the fact that bilateral investments have strengthened since then and the volume of trade between Turkey and Israel rose by 30% in 2011, all demonstrate that Israel has lost none of its popularity within Turkish society.

But today, with the latest situation in the Middle East and the ongoing Syrian situation, the countries need the partnership of each other maybe more than ever.

Therefore, the new push in the reconciliation talks is a new breath of hope for both countries. The reconciliation talks, which had petered out for many months, were revived in early December when the Turks invited the Israeli negotiating team – national security adviser Yossi Cohen; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s special envoy, Joseph Ciechanover; and Foreign Ministry director general Nissim Ben Sheetrit to return to Istanbul.

But today, with the latest situation in the Middle East and the ongoing Syrian situation, the countries need the partnership of each other maybe more than ever.

Ceylan Ozbudak

As the Ha'aretz Newspaper highlighted in the last weeks, Jerusalem also wants the normalization of relations with Turkey to go beyond the symbolic return of ambassadors to Tel Aviv and Ankara. Israel also wants to resume its diplomatic dialogue with Turkey, ministerial meetings, mutual visits and other steps.

In terms of Turkish aid, and also others, Israel has opened its doors and contributed to the arrival of aid in Gaza following the negative stand by Egypt.

Enmity between neighbors has never gained anything for nations socially or economically. Unilever, for example, produces several of its products in Morocco, but it ships those items to Algeria via France because of the tepid relationship between the two Arab nations. The same phenomenon has happened between the Arab countries and Israel.

For decades, doing business in the Israeli and the Arab markets was an either-or proposition; the Arab countries rejected most companies that sold their goods in Israel, and vice versa.

This was never the case in Turkey. Turkey has always been open to trade with Israel and tourism between the two countries has not been affected negatively by the diplomatic shortcomings.

Turkey: the exception, not the rule

We should also remember that the new energy resources in the Mediterranean Sea contributed to the ongoing diplomatic steps since the energy issues have occupied a central place in the discussions about Turkey’s policies in the Eastern Mediterranean, forcing Ankara to revisit its policies toward Israel and the Greek Cypriots within a new framework.

In recent years, Israel’s discovery and plans for the development of off-shore natural gas deposits, similar news about the presence of vast reserves in Cyprus’s territorial waters, and the deal reached between Tel Aviv and the Nicosia government had altered the geopolitical dynamics in Eastern Mediterranean.

With these going on in the background, Turkey has also initiated its own exploration plans without waiting for the resolution of the dispute on the island. A Turkey-bound pipeline seems to be the most feasible option to export the natural gas to be developed in Israel’s offshore exploration blocks by a seabed-connection to the Turkish coast.

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.

For Israeli projects to be economically feasible and overall, Turkey leaves open the possibility that a region-wide integrated approach could be developed for Eastern Mediterranean gas. Turkey, not being an energy rich country, is said to begin importing Israeli gas starting in 2017 and according to Derek-Noble Partnership, the company started negotiating with four Turkish companies already.

We should emphasize the fact that restitution to the families of the deceased is a rule in both Judaism and Islam. Therefore, we can see that Israel, as a Jewish state, is following its religious values.

Surely Israel would want to go back to times when they had Turkey as a close partner in the Middle East given the situation with Iran being so very fluid at the moment. But this action is not only to satisfy the Turkish community but also to satisfy the Orthodox Jewish community.

On the other hand, the fact that Turkey has decided to restart the negotiations means that unlike many North African-Arab states or Iran, it is not running against history, but with it. We can safely imagine Turkey becoming more stable, democratic, and ultimately closer to Western World.

Turkey has to normalize its relationship with Israel to contribute to balances in the region. Being the only regional country both Iranian and Israeli citizens can travel to without a visa requirement; It is also the only country where the members of these two nations can dwell freely without enmity.

Since the country is moving forward to a closer diplomatic relationship with Iran, it’s also high time to come closer to Israel to be able to mediate between the two countries when the need emerges.

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.
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