15.05.2021 Author: Vladimir Odintsov

So, Turkey and Israel Try to Befriend or Unfriend Each Other?


Although Turkey was the first Muslim state to recognize Israel back in 1949, relations between the countries have developed in waves in recent decades. This is largely due to the fact that the rhetoric and actions of the leadership of both countries are based on the satisfaction of their electorates.

Tensions between Turkey and Israel have persisted for the past 10 years, following the seizure by Israeli special forces in May 2010 of the Mavi Marmara ferry carrying humanitarian aid from Turkey to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip. Ankara has since reduced the level of diplomatic relations and severed most of its ties with Israel, while maintaining economic, intelligence and security cooperation. In 2015, the two sides began talks to restore bilateral relations, but in 2018 Ankara recalled its ambassador following clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli military in the Gaza Strip, and following the US decision to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a city that has been a central stumbling block in the territorial dispute between Israel and Palestine. Then the Turkish authorities urgently convened in Istanbul an extraordinary summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which includes 57 countries. The OIC advocated the creation of an independent international commission of experts to investigate the massacre of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip; in turn, Israel imposed anti-Turkish sanctions, banning the purchase of agricultural products from Turkey.

On October 1, 2020, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made it clear that “Jerusalem belongs to Turkey,” referring to the Ottoman Empire’s control of the ancient city for much of the modern era. Regarding the Ottoman Empire, it is known that it controlled Jerusalem from 1516 to 1917, hence the very aggressive calls from the Turkish elite against Israel. In 2019, for example, retired Turkish General Adnan Tanriverdi called for the need to “liberate Jerusalem from the Israeli occupation”.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself has made harsh statements about Israel on more than one occasion, looking back at his electorate and the ruling conservative party, which, of course, always plays the Islam card. Turkish people support the Palestinians as Muslims, and believe there should be a recognized state of Palestine, and ideally, that there should be no Israel.

As a result, there were ups and downs in relations between the two countries, ambassadors were recalled, ambassadors were returned, the level dropped, both countries summoned each other’s ambassadors to the Foreign Ministry for indoctrination. But Turkey’s relationship with Israel has a very strong economic basis that continues to exist and does not allow the bilateral relationship to collapse completely. The trade turnover between the countries is quite impressive; Turkey is one of the largest economies in the Middle East and Mediterranean region.

But it was not only the economy that influenced the birth of “waves of rapprochement”. Developments in the region and the adjustment of policy towards Israel in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are Turkey’s main rivals in the struggle for spheres of influence in the Islamic world and the Middle East, played an important role. Thus, with the mediation of Washington, Saudi Arabia, followed by the UAE, normalized a year ago the damaged relations with Qatar, which Ankara, taking advantage of the blockade of Doha by the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf, wanted as closest allies, seeking an “alliance of four” (Turkey, Qatar, Malaysia, Pakistan) — not only economic, but also geopolitical and military on the basis of rejection of Israel. Therefore, Ankara decided that if Turkey takes actual steps towards resetting relations with Israel under these conditions, it will upset the applecart for Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to a certain extent.

That is why in the very difficult domestic political and economic situation in Israel and Turkey, the leaders of both states, with an eye on the domestic electorate, actively use populist rhetoric to demonstrate a rapprochement between the two states, and a certain divergence on certain issues.

In recent years, various media outlets have been increasingly publishing articles about Turkey’s marked desire to develop and strengthen its multifaceted ties with Israel. Amid the ambiguous demonstration of the new US administration’s approaches to resolving the very important issues for Turkey and Israel, the leaders of the two states are scrambling to find their place in the region, as well as to determine the path for further bilateral cooperation.

In December, Turkey announced that, after a two-year hiatus, it would appoint a new ambassador to Israel. And in January of this year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan confirmed that Ankara was once again conducting official negotiations with Tel Aviv. He stressed that he considers the attitude of the Israeli authorities towards the Palestinians unacceptable but would like to re-establish Turkish-Israeli relations by negotiating at the highest level.

The search for rapprochement between the two countries was confirmed by the Israeli Prime Minister at a meeting with his constituents in Bat Yam in March of this year. “Yes, we’re negotiating with Turkey, and the process is proving positive,” he said. Of course, Israel needs peaceful, good relations with any country, especially with countries of the Mediterranean region, including, of course, Turkey. But we should also keep in mind that announcing publicly the rapprochement with Ankara was in no small part one of the main trump cards that Benjamin Netanyahu threw to his voters, trying to show that he is a leader of international stature and the other contenders for the post of prime minister are a head below him. In a recent election campaign, a slogan was even used: “Netanyahu, in a different league,” that is, a league an order above his other opponents, who supposedly can hardly compare with him.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was an active mediator in the recent negotiations between Turkey and Israel, and this is no accident. Azerbaijan is one of the few Muslim countries that has already built good relations with Israel, from which it has been buying weapons for a long time. According to a number of media outlets, after the end of military operations in Nagorno-Karabakh, in which he received considerable support from both Turkey and Israel, the President of Azerbaijan expressed his desire to promote reconciliation between the two countries, particularly in his conversations with Erdoğan. And, having received Ankara’s approval, he began to work in this direction.

However, the steps taken in the direction of rapprochement between the two countries were once again replaced by a wave of tension after the recent unrest in Jerusalem. Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers and police began in East Jerusalem with the onset of Ramadan and continue unabated today. On May 8, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas called for a UN Security Council meeting because of the deteriorating situation in East Jerusalem. At least 300 Palestinians, including Red Crescent workers, were injured in clashes with Israeli police near the al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on the morning of May 10.

The latest Israeli actions in Jerusalem have become a “terror”, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated, as reported by the Turkish news agency Anadolu. Ankara, according to Erdoğan, “will do everything possible to mobilize the whole world, and above all the Islamic world, to stop the terror and invasions of Israel.” “Turkey will always support its Palestinian brothers and sisters and defend the greatness of Jerusalem,” the Turkish president added.

Vladimir Odintsov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


Please select digest to download: