Israel nominates new envoy to Turkey

Israel nominates new envoy to Turkey

The Turkish-Israeli normalization process is continuing, albeit at a slow pace.

On Tuesday, the Israeli Foreign Ministry nominated the deputy ambassador to Britain, Eitan Na’eh, as its new envoy to Turkey. 

Na’eh, who previously served as the ambassador to Azerbaijan, is a name familiar with Turkey. Na’eh joined the Foreign Ministry in 1991, where he specialized in Turkish affairs and was assigned as the second and first secretary in Ankara in 1993. 

He also served as the head of the Turkish-Greek and Cyprus desk in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem in 1999.

Diplomatic procedure dictates that Na’eh must first receive the approval of the government’s security committee before he can be officially appointed to Ankara.

Turkey and Israel are then expected to simultaneously exchange ambassadors based on a reconciliation deal signed on June 28. 

A day after Na’eh’s nomination, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that Kemal Ökem, who formerly served as the Prime Ministry’s adviser for foreign affairs, will be Turkey’s next ambassador to Israel. Prior to his new post, Ökem worked at embassies in London and Riyadh, and was Turkey’s envoy to NATO.

The relationship between the two countries hit an all-time low following a deadly assault in May 2010 on the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara aid flotilla, which was carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. Diplomatic relations were downgraded to a minimum after a U.N. report which condemned Israel’s extensive use of force, but nevertheless decided that Israel’s blockade on Gaza did not violate international law and that Israel had the right to stop the flotilla based on self-defense.

In the aftermath of the attack, Turkey set three conditions for normalization: a formal apology, compensation for the families of those killed and the lifting of Israel’s blockade on Gaza.

In 2013, an apology came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced regret over the incident to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was Turkey’s prime minister at the time, during a phone conversation brokered by U.S. President Barack Obama.

After years of on-and-off negotiations, the two sides finally reached a reconciliation deal in June. Accordingly, Israel agreed to pay $20 million in compensation to the victims of the Mavi Marmara, with the funds finally reaching Turkey’s coffers at the end of September. And although the blockade remains in place, Ankara has been able to send humanitarian aid to Gaza through Israeli ports and engage in infrastructure investments to improve the living conditions of Palestinians under the deal.

The agreement also guaranteed that Israel would be exempted from all legal and criminal proceedings that have been opened in Turkey regarding the Mavi Marmara incident.

After five years, the restoration of diplomatic ties constitutes a significant milestone in the normalization process. The re-establishment of dialogue between Turkey and Israel will undoubtedly help both countries overcome their conflicts in an effective way and, accordingly, contribute to peace and stability in the region.
Na’eh’s diplomatic experience also highlights the strategic significance of energy cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean, which has been a major driving force of reconciliation between the two countries. 

A month ago, Energy Ministers Berat Albayrak and Yuval Steinitz met at the 23rd World Energy Congress in Istanbul in the first bilateral ministerial level meeting in six years.

Last week, the two countries reportedly staged their first meeting to discuss the technical details of a natural gas pipeline project. 

Since the discovery of Israel’s Tamar (2009) and Leviathan (2010) natural gas fields, several firms in both Turkey and Israel have been exploring the possibility of building a natural gas pipeline under the Mediterranean to transport Israel’s to European markets via Turkey. 

Despite the price drop in petroleum and natural gas prices, Turkey still provides the most feasible export route for Israel. 

However, the realization of the pipeline project is contingent on a comprehensive settlement on Cyprus because the planned pipeline must either cross the economic maritime zone of the Turkish Cypriot government or the Greek Cypriot side. If a settlement is reached on the unification of Cyprus, then the same pipeline could transfer both Israeli and Cypriot gas to Ceyhan port – a development that would help reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas.

Thus, Israeli-Turkish rapprochement is expected to have a positive push for the settlement of the Cyprus issue. And who knows, it might even help break the ice between Turkey and Egypt in the future. 

While energy cooperation is considered integral to maintaining strategic balances in the region, once diplomatic relations are restored, cooperation will naturally develop in other fields, too.