Welcome back to Israel
I was back in Israel this week. And I have to confess; it is good to be a Turkish traveler in Israel nowadays. Many ordinary Israeli citizens had the same reaction when they met me: “Oh, are you from Turkey? Welcome back.” On a personal level, it felt good to be back in Tel Aviv, to have dinner at Manta Ray. When the waitress there heard that I was from Turkey, she brought a bottle of champagne before taking our table’s orders. “We are friends again”, she said while serving the bottle and noting that it was on the house. So many “missed you”s, in the last couple of days. As I said, it is enchanting to be a Turkish traveler in Tel Aviv these days.
At another of my favorite restaurants by the pier of Jaffa, at the Container, I met an Israeli clarinet player very fluent in Turkish classical music. Harel Shachal started the conversation with Tanburi Cemil bey and then continued by counting the names of famous Turkish clarinet players from the distant past. He definitely knew more than me. He used to live in New York City, and came across the clarinet through his Turkish friends in the East Village; then traveled to Turkey to take “classes” from Selim Sesler, a virtuoso from Kesan. The concert was the proof in the pudding and a large crowd gathered to dance to Harel’s Turkish tune. No wonder that about 35 percent of the respondents to a survey conducted by a major Israeli newspaper noted that they would happily accept a package deal to Antalya, Turkey. Want to hear some good Turkish classical music? Go to Tel Aviv. The two projects of Harel Shachal, The Turkika Band and the Ottoman Band are playing at hip venues around Tel Aviv, like the Container. And there is a Sufi Festival that is starting at the beginning of May.
This time around, I understand the significance of the new Iskenderun-Haifa-El Khalil transport corridor. It was about a year and a half ago when I first started talking about the importance of a new transit transport corridor to be established through Israel for Turkish goods to flow smoothly to the Gulf. I have to confess that I was not expecting the paradigm shift that the Israeli government has gone through. Long before the official apology, Israel started allowing Turkish trucks to enter Israeli roads. That means that Turkish trucks were exempt from back-to-back arrangements, which are the usual treatment for Palestinian trucks and greatly raise transportation costs. The containers from Turkey are not carried from Turkish to Israeli trucks to pass through Israeli roads, but continue with Turkish TIR drivers – A revolutionary step for Israel, if you ask me.
What does this signify? Two things. First of all, this revolutionary step indicates Turkey’s strategic importance to Israel. It is a huge step to mend Israeli-Turkish ties long before the apology. The transport corridor is very important for the Turkish economy to reach out to Jordan and from there the Gulf markets. This is a much-needed relief after the mess in Syria. Secondly, the possibility that said mess might be around for at least a decade makes the new transport route all the more important. It is not only a route for Turkish goods, but for all European products. It currently has the capacity to reach about 250 trucks per day. A major transport route east to west is taking shape, and it is Israel that enables the connection. That is all the more true as the Arab transformations get messier. Just look at Egypt nowadays. It more important than ever before for the Turks to be back in Israel as quickly as possible.
It was bad management and politics that kept us apart for the last couple of years. The strategic importance of Turkish-Israeli cooperation however, is overwhelming.