Behind the scenes of Turkish-Israeli reconciliation deal

Behind the scenes of Turkish-Israeli reconciliation deal

After six long years, Turkey and Israel have finally put pen to paper to sign an agreement normalizing their relations, with the leaders of both countries heralding the deal as a success to their respective publics. The deal, however, was made possible by both countries compromising on their red lines – at least to a certain degree.

After the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, one of Ankara’s three conditions for a resumption of relations was the lifting of the siege on Gaza. Instead of its elimination, however, Turkey settled for a mere easing of the embargo due to Israel’s security concerns. As such, Gaza-bound aid from Turkey will first be subjected to Israeli checks at the port of Ashdod before being transported to Gaza. In other words, the maritime siege remains in force.

During the advanced phase of the talks, Israel raised the issue of closing Hamas’ offices in Turkey, but it would appear that Tel Aviv has taken a step back with regard to the final agreement. Alleged to be the site in which terrorist attacks in Israel were planned, these offices will now only remain open for diplomatic purposes under guarantees from Ankara.

Meanwhile, Israel agreed to pay $20 million to the families of the 10 Turkish activists killed in the flotilla raid in return for Turkey dropping the cases against senior Israeli military officials in its country’s courts. However, cases could still be opened against Turkey in the event the state quashes individually-opened trials against Israeli military personnel, since it would be a violation of rights. 

Without wasting any time, Turkey is sending its first shipment of aid – totaling 10 tons – to Gaza this Friday, July 1. With headlines proclaiming a “Holiday in Gaza,” the move is certain to assuage the unease of those upset by the deal.

The point we have reached today, however, is the exact same one Israel suggested more than six years ago before the Mavi Marmara set sail - namely, that Turkey should send any aid via Ashdod. But keeping in mind the United Nations’ admonition that Gaza will be “uninhabitable by 2020,” the fact that living conditions will be ameliorated somewhat with investments in hospitals, power plants and desalinization plants from Turkey is a political and humanitarian victory that should not be understated.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about the economic aspects of the deal, noting it would “have immense implications for the Israeli economy.” Chief among these implications are possible energy deals with Turkey, with Israel set to earn $2 billion by exporting gas through Turkey – to say nothing about the strategic aspects of such exports, such as diversifying energy resources, contributing to Europe’s energy security and acting as a counter-balance to Russia.

Naturally, too, the détente between Turkey and Israel is also likely to have positive ramifications on Turkey, Egypt and Cyprus.

And then there’s the military aspect of Turkish-Israeli ties. Reading between the lines as Netanyahu listed the deal’s economic benefits it is also possible to anticipate benefits to the Israeli economy from future military cooperation between the two countries. At the same time, however, the mutual sharing of intelligence on a military level depends on the two overcoming the mistrust that has taken root over the years.

In the interests of rectifying the mutual loss of trust, Turkey’s task will be to combat the anti-Semitism in the country that has become intertwined with anti-Israel rhetoric.

At the same time, it is important to note that any new clashes between Israel and Palestine could throw Turkish-Israel ties off kilter until there is a solution to the Palestinian issue.

The deal between Turkey and Israel is the product of an anticipated revision in Ankara’s foreign policy, and is in accordance with Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, who said “we will increase the number of our friends” as soon as he came to power.

To the north, Turkish-Russian ties also seem to be getting back on track after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sent a letter of apology to Russian President Vladimir Putin over the 2015 jet crisis, but given the economic and political ramifications the crisis has had on Turkey, one might even say it’s come late.

As all of these things were happening on June 27, we learned from Yıldırım that there would be no delay in fostering new relations with Egypt.

In building new bridges, next up might be Cyprus – or even Syria. But if one thing is certain, it’s that an ideological foreign policy is being abandoned in favor of one based on realpolitik and Turkey’s interests.

In light of this, it would be appropriate to declare that Turkey pressed the “reset” button on June 27.