Turkey and Israel closer to normalizing ties after Istanbul ISIL attack

Turkey and Israel closer to normalizing ties after Istanbul ISIL attack

Last week’s suicide bomb attack in Istanbul that killed three Israelis and one Iranian citizen has produced one rather unexpected result. The fact that Turkish authorities have tried to do their best to help Israeli diplomats heal their wounds in the aftermath of the March 19 suicide bombing have been sincerely appreciated by the Israeli administration. 

Israeli Foreign Ministry General-Director Dore Gold cut his trip to the United States short and came to Istanbul to coordinate the transportation of wounded and killed Israeli citizens back to Israel, and to talk with Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu. Meanwhile, both President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu wrote letters to their counterparts to express condolences on behalf of the people of Turkey. 

Turkish gestures have not been left unanswered. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called Erdoğan to express his gratitude regarding the latter’s condolences for the three Israeli citizens killed. 

Only hours after Rivlin-Erdoğan conversation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was hopeful that upcoming negotiations between Israel and Turkey will “produce positive results” and enable the renewal of relations between the two countries.

The meeting between Sinirlioğlu and Gold in Istanbul was important, as the two diplomats reiterated their willingness to continue long-lasting talks aiming to restore bilateral relations. Turkey and Israel reduced the level of their diplomatic relations in the aftermath of the 2010 Mavi Marmara crisis, in which Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish and one Turkish-American onboard a Gaza-bound vessel in international waters. 

A meeting between Turkish and Israeli negotiation teams, led by Sinirlioğlu and Netanyahu’s representative Joseph Ciechanover respectively, is planned to take place in either late March or early April, according to diplomatic sources. 

Following Israel’s formal apology to Turkey over the killing of its citizens, there are two remaining conditions that the former should fulfill before ties can be normalized and the two sides appoint ambassadors. There appear to be few problems regarding Israel paying compensations to the victims of the Mavi Marmara incident, though there are some issues remaining about providing unrestricted Turkish humanitarian access to Gaza. 

There are also Israeli demands from Turkey about ongoing criminal cases against Israeli military officers who took part in the Mavi Marmara operation. Amid fears that these cases could bring about legal consequences for the accused Israeli military officials, the Israeli administration has been asking the Turkish government to agree to withdraw all charges against Israeli army officials. 

It’s not yet clear whether Turkey and Israel can narrow these differences in the upcoming meeting, but there is no doubt that possible rapprochement between the two countries has gained momentum since last week’s ISIL attack. As Erdoğan and Rivlin both said in their conversation, an additional aspect of the future Turkey-Israel relationship can involve closer cooperation against terrorism.