Turkish-Israeli ties at lowest point since Mavi Marmara crisis

Turkish-Israeli ties at lowest point since Mavi Marmara crisis

One of the legitimate criticisms on Turkish foreign policy, particularly concerning the eastern Mediterranean, has been its inability to avoid a total derailment of its relations with two other regional powers, Israel and Egypt.

Last week this column revealed and analyzed the ongoing intelligence-to-intelligence dialogue between Turkey and Egypt over Libya with hopes that it would also help to flourish a better understanding of bilateral issues.

However, ties with Israel are far from being promising. Sources, who closely follow the Turkish-Israeli relationship, describe it as being at the lowest level since the Mavi Marmara crisis of 2010, which had resulted in the killing of 10 Turkish civilians at the hands of the Israeli security forces aboard a flotilla while trying to deliver humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in Gaza under Israeli blockade.

Ties were normalized after six years when the Israeli government apologized to Turkey and agreed to pay compensation to the families of the Mavi Marmara victims. The two sides exchanged ambassadors in late in 2016, but relations were once again strained after Israel’s unproportioned use of force against the Palestinian protestors in early 2018.

In the same period, Turkey has played a leading role in coordinating the international community to stand against the United States’ controversial decision of placing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Since then, Turkey and Israel have no ambassadors in each other’s capital with minimum government-to-government interaction only when it comes to humanitarian issues.

As of today, some current trends that further harm the ties between the two countries are as follows:

-Israel was following a rather careful stance on the ongoing dispute between Turkey and Greece-Greek Cyprus over the eastern Mediterranean and was avoiding to openly confront Turkey although it is one of the important actors concerning the hydrocarbon business. The Israeli focus has long been on securing the most feasible method in transporting its reserves to world markets, and therefore, it was refraining from taking sides on the ongoing Turkish-Greek clash over the overlapping continental shelf claims. But on Aug. 12, Israel’s embassy in Athens issued a statement expressing full solidarity with Greece and Greek maritime jurisdiction areas.

-For Turkey, Israel’s continued pressure on Gaza; and for Israel, Turkey’s continued relationship with senior Hamas officials makes the situation unrecoverable.

-Turkey’s strong and heavy-worded reaction against the normalization deal between the United Arab Emirates and Israel was noted yet as another negative development. Unconfirmed remarks by Mossad’s chief that allegedly described Turkey “as the real danger” in the region were noted, too.

Despite these negative aspects, it’s interesting to observe the improvement in economic ties and tourism, which revealed the real potential of the Turkish-Israeli partnership. The annual trade volume hits more than $7 billion with an obvious advantage to Turkey while around half a million Israelis visited Turkey in 2019. However, there are concerns that the prolongation of the current freeze in the political relationship would hurt those ties as well.

Many of the Turkish decision-makers are hoping that ties could be restored with the Israeli government that is not chaired by Benjamin Netanyahu as he will be replaced by his coalition partner, Benny Gantz, in late 2021.

However, given the deepening ideological divide between the two countries, it would be premature to suggest an automatic, quick and unconditional recovery of the ties.