[X]

Israel and Turkey: The Promises and Perils of Reconciliation

Viewpoints, April 2016

Efrat Aviv                                                                                            

Israel and Turkey have been negotiating on the undersecretary-level in recent months in an attempt to bridge the contention between the two nations. Tensions began in 2006 and reached their peak in 2010, with the Mavi Marmara incident. Even prior to the raid on the boat that was sent to Gaza by the Turkish terrorist organization IHH, which left eight Turkish nationals dead, the Turkish president had sown tension between his nation and Israel, directing inflammatory rhetoric towards the Jewish State. Ambassadors were withdrawn following the 2010 crisis, offering no prospects of improved relations in the foreseeable future. More recently, in 2013, Israel apologized for the incident and has since made efforts to compensate the families of the raid’s victims, thus meeting two of the Turkish regime’s three stated criteria for normalization. This leaves Israel’s blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip the remaining hurdle in any proposed agreement between the two states.

Credit: Frederic Legrand - COMEO / Shutterstock.com

Credit: Frederic Legrand – COMEO / Shutterstock.com

The implications of diplomatic progressions are of particular interest in Gaza, where Hamas hopes an emerging deal will result in the construction of a seaport for the impoverished costal region. Israel has suggested it would allow goods and construction materials into Gaza if they arrive via Turkey. However, Turkey’s ties to Hamas remain a major source of dispute for the Jewish state: President Erdoğan has expressed public support for the Gaza-based terrorist group and his anti-Israeli approach is well known. More so, Hamas operates a headquarters in Turkey from which terror attacks on Israel are planned. Israel will expect a cessation of such activities before reconciliation may be achieved. Additionally, it will want Turkey to prevent senior Hamas operative Salah Al-Aruri from entering its territory and acting from within its borders.

Regardless of any improvement in official relations, it is clear that economic and cultural ties between Israel and Turkey will blossom. Thus, there seems to be no need for rapprochement with Turkey on Israel’s part. Many in Israeli politics and the military oppose reconciliation (Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon and Major General Yoav Mordechai, to name two). These skeptics argue that reconciliation risks damaging Israel’s relations with Greece, Cyprus, and Russia, three countries which have found themselves at odds with the Turkish regime.

Egypt is another regional player whose interests must be taken into consideration. Though Turkey has made efforts to strengthen ties with Egypt, Israel’s decisions regarding Gaza must be coordinated with Cairo. Egypt remains wary of the possibility of Hamas strengthening itself, which might bolster the Muslim Brotherhood within its own borders, an organization that poses a direct threat to the current Egyptian regime and towards which Erdoğan is highly sympathetic,

Israel would be ill advised to enter a premature agreement with Turkey when the latter is politically and economically vulnerable, especially when trust on matters of security has deteriorated. If Israel faces another battle with Hamas, it has no guarantee that Erdoğan will not repeat his rhetoric that “Israel surpasses Hitler” as he did during Operation Protective Edge. More optimistic voices argue that the turmoil from within Turkey (the Kurdish minority) and from outside its borders (Russia and ISIS) as well as the prospect of cooperation over Israel’s gas line project guarantee that Erdoğan will take a more moderate approach towards Israel in the future.

 Dr. Efrat Aviv is a Lecturer at the Department of Middle East Studies and a Research Associate at the BESA Center for Strategic Studies, Bar Ilan University.