Israel’s top diplomat singing Turkey’s new FM’s praises

Israel’s top diplomat singing Turkey’s new FM’s praises

Emine Kart - JERUSALEM
Israel’s top diplomat singing Turkey’s new FM’s praises Israel’s top diplomat has highly commended Turkey’s new Foreign Minister, Feridun Sinirlioğlu, as a chance for Turkey to have a high-skill diplomat as foreign minister, while seeming convinced of a positive change in the dynamics of Israel-Turkey relations, despite the fact of more visible differences in the last few years.

According to Dore Gold, the director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, there are reasons for being hopeful when an increasing convergence of interests between the two countries offers a chance to the two once-close allies for turning the Middle East into a much more productive and peaceful area.

“I sent your new foreign minister a letter of congratulations,” Gold told a group of journalists from Turkey on Sept. 1.

“I have to say that many people in different capitals asked about the Rome meeting and … I heard the highest praise whether I was in a European capital or speaking to American officials about his diplomatic skills,” Gold told the visiting group.

Gold, a longtime adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, held an unannounced meeting with his former Turkish counterpart, Sinirlioğlu, undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry who has recently taken over as minister, in Rome in the second half of June to explore ways of improving ties.

“Turkey is very lucky to have him as foreign minister. He is a first-class diplomat,” Gold said, declining to elaborate whether he and Sinirlioğlu have been planning to hold a meeting in a near future.

Taking pains to not set a prospective calendar, Gold, nonetheless, was bold while explaining his optimistic view of the future and listing certain factors as reasons nourishing his optimism.

“Israelis feel a great affinity to Turkey,” Israel’s top diplomat said on Sept. 1, citing geostrategic, people-to-people and historical backgrounds for such strong affinity, with a special emphasis on the Ottoman Empire’s role as a haven for Jewish people in 1492 during the Spanish Inquisition.

“I think the connection has always been very special,” he said, underlining that such bond is still in the “political consciousness” of Israeli people.

According to Gold, what he sees as “a period of greater Iranian expansionism” is a key factor which requires rapprochement of the once close allies.

“Our two countries were strategic partners for so many years during the Cold War; we faced Soviet Union together. We had to provide security in the East Mediterranean together. Our security establishments were closely interwoven for many years. Now it is no secret that in the last few years, in the aftermath of the Mavi Marmara, the differences we had become more pronounced, public statements made in both countries by leaders. But I think today something is occurring. What we are seeing is an increasing convergence of our interests in the last number of years,” Gold elaborated.

ISIL and Iran

“Today Turkey is at war with the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant [ISIL],” Gold, citing the jihadist group as a threat he said, noting that ISIL was not only for Turkey but also for Iraq, Syria and Israel.

“ISIL now has a presence in Sinai peninsula. Very close to our border. One of the current features of presence of ISIL in northern Sinai is the cooperative relationship between ISIL and Hamas. Iran has to figure largely in the national security considerations of both of our countries. Iran is largely responsible for a good deal of the chaos in the Middle East today. Iran modus operandi includes use of religious methods for spreading its power and influence. There are perceptions on Iran becoming more moderate from being a radical threat. To the contrary, we believe that Iranian agreement with P5+1 could give Iranians a sense of empowerment. As Israel and Turkey, at different times, we have been targets for Iran. Discussion is needed for protecting our national interests,” Gold said, putting his frame on why he believed that the Iran issue is “another element in convergence of interests.”

“We have not yet resolved the crisis we had over time in Mavi Marmara but I think we are moving in a positive direction and our leaderships will at some point be able to complete that process. But in the meantime we face a Middle East which is much more dangerous and we are among elements in the region who can think and work together about how to change things in the Middle East,” he said.

‘Diplomacy takes time’

Turkey’s relations with Israel have deteriorated since nine Turks and one Turkish-American were killed, and several other pro-Palestinian activists were wounded when Israeli commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara on May 31, 2010, which was trying to break the blockade on Gaza. The relationship between the two countries has worsened since then, with both sides withdrawing their ambassadors and reducing their diplomatic representation in each other’s capitals.

Numerous efforts to normalize ties between Turkey and Israel have failed, including one initiated by U.S. President Barack Obama in March 2013. At the time, Israel bowed to the longstanding demand by Ankara, once a close strategic partner, to apologize formally for the deaths aboard the Mavi Marmara. However, an agreement to normalize relations has not been achieved. In recent years, Turkish and Israeli officials have often engaged in wars of words, criticizing each other’s policies.

“Both countries have interest in developing relations but diplomacy takes time. There is no instant breakthrough in this business and we will find a way, a path and a time but I think the general direction we are moving is positive,” Gold said.

Referring to one of Turkey’s preconditions for normalization of relations, which is lifting Gaza’s blockade, Gold said they wished Turkish authorities saw Israel’s efforts for the economic development of Gaza.

“Israel is supportive of Gaza. We have to find a way for growing improvement without putting Israelis into danger,” Gold said, repeatedly refuting claims that Israeli officials have been holding negotiations with Hamas.

“Hamas remains to be a part of the jihadist universe,” he said.