By Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal
Today, both Arab Mideast but and non-Arab Turkey are passing through a very difficult phase of existence as their common enemies are ganging up in a variety of guises, including as friends and allies, to cause Islamic destabilization. These Muslim nations are facing similar problems and hence they can solve them together. But can they?
While entire European continent watches closely the efforts of Turkey – the only Muslim nation in Europe and so far unable to enter the EU as a legitimate member – to upgrade its international diplomatic profile by coming closer to Arab nations, Iran and other Muslim countries, Istanbul is finding itself in gradual isolation in Mideast due mainly to Russian intervention in neighboring Syria, ostensibly to fight terrorism and shield Assad regime.
Russia’s intentions in Syria and Mideast are confusing as it tries to reinvent the USA-Russia cold war tactics.
Turkey is concerned as it seems to realize the importance of Israel in promoting its ties with the USA and EU.
As its emerging assertive diplomacy and its high profile diplomacy in Middle East faces serious problems, Turkey has decided to renew the “historic” ties with its former ally Israel. Maybe because it views the problems it now faces stemmed from its break up with Israel.
Turkey’s attempts to follow a rather independent foreign policy since the beginning of the Arab Spring despite not being a super power like USA or Russia, resulted in severing ties with its neighbours and the West. Turkey has been suffering from political and diplomatic isolation in the region for quite a while. But lately, a number of steps have been taken to mend those ties.
Turkey and Israel have reportedly reached a preliminary agreement in diplomatic talks held recently in Switzerland to re-establish the diplomatic ties that were suspended five years ago. Jewish strategists say both sides have something to gain from this, there’s no doubt about that.
Turkey is attempting to repair its regional relations after its unfruitful Syria policy and the deterioration of ties with Moscow following Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet in November.
Under the agreement, the Israeli government will reportedly contribute $20 million to a fund to be divided among the families of the ten Turkish activists killed during a fight with Israeli commandos boarding the Mavi Marmara in 2010. The ship had set out to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. In exchange, Turkey will cancel any current or future legal claims against members of the Israeli Defense Forces. Israel seeks Turkish help in isolating the Hamas ruling government in Gaza Strip.
Aidship attack by Israel broke down the relations in 2010. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, then the Prime Minister, at the time called the incident an act of state terrorism and withdrew Turkey’s ambassador, downgraded diplomatic ties, and suspended military cooperation. By then, their bilateral ties were collapsing as the relations between the two countries had already started to degenerate before the Aidship incident, after Erdoğan and other Turkish politicians sharply criticized Israeli terror actions during its 2008-2009 military operation in the Gaza Strip, killing the besieged Palestinians in thousands, including women and children.
Erdoğan referred to Zionism as “a crime against humanity,” in 2013, and in 2014 called Israeli politicians “worse than Hitler,” accusing them of genocide in the Gaza Strip. Hawkish but smart looking and US educated Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu personally apologized to Erdoğan in March 2013, though relations remained poor..People of Turkey are hurt badly by the Zionist criminal spree, reducing the Palestine population in a sustained manner.
Palestine remains the key issue between Turkey and Israel. During the still-ongoing negotiations for the current agreement, the Turkish government also reportedly requested an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip, which many commentators call an unrealistic demand.
Return to alignment
Why Turkey does now seeks realignment process with an essentially anti-Islamic Israel?
Regional developments and challenges have been compelling Ankara to revise its foreign policy, not only with Israel, but with its neighbors, and the West as well. Media reports suggest that the new agreement between Turkey and Israel, which has not been officially confirmed, will normalize diplomatic relations, including the return of withdrawn ambassadors.
The major downturn in relations with the Russian government could threaten Turkey’s energy supplies, since it purchases more than half of its natural gas from Russia. Moscow also recently cancelled plans for the Turkish Stream pipeline.
Getting a proposed Israeli gas pipeline to Turkey off the ground could be part of Ankara’s incentive for mending relations. The major pipeline project, to be fed from the giant, recently-discovered Leviathan field, is a game-changer,” and would be difficult to implement without a mending of relations with Israel.
A further incentive for Turkey to normalize relations with Israel is to increase its standing with the West, in particular, with the United States. Ties with Israel go far with Washington,” which may turn a blind eye when it comes to Turkey’s costly war with the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the southeast. Ankara’s desire for a rapprochement with Israel may also be a factor in recent efforts to improve its relationship with Turkey’s 17,000-strong Jewish community. Turkey will be seen as a country that’s moving forward, satisfying Israeli lobbyists in Washington.
Turkey in recent times has tried to appease the Jewish community and thereby Israel by major steps. On December 6, the last day of Hanukkah, a menorah-lighting ceremony was publicly held in Istanbul for the first time in the history of the Turkish republic. In January, Holocaust victims were mourned in a much larger than usual ceremony. In February, the 768 Jewish refugees who died near Istanbul in the 1942 sinking of the ship, Struma, were commemorated officially for the first time. In March, a major restoration of the Great Synagogue in Edirne was completed.
Especially at times of conflict between Israel and Turkey, the loyalty of Jewish people towards the state is questioned ever more. There is a widespread misperception of Turkish Jews holding dual citizenship, voting at the Israeli elections and even being exempt from military service. However, there is still a significant problem with anti-Semitism in the country.
On its part, Israel also needs customers to sell its gas to, especially after another recently-discovered natural gas field near Egypt strikes Cairo from Israel’s list of potential customers. It’s a pressing issue for Israel to find alternative markets.
For Israel Turkey’s new diplomacy is a very good move to win the hearts and minds of the Jewish community and to polish Turkey’s image as a tolerant Muslim country. “We’re hopeful and we’re looking forward to normalization of ties between the two countries.” it makes good strategic sense for Turkey to mend ties with Israel, and it will be politically easier now that the end of the election season until 2019 reduces anti-Israeli rhetoric. Jewish columnists say right now conditions are perfect for the two countries to start normalization, so long as they can reach an agreement on the Gaza embargo.
Historically, Turkey and Israel have had close ties, and the more recent sour relations stood in stark contrast to the early years of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). In 2006, the Israeli Foreign Ministry described their relationship as “perfect.” Even during the downturn in relations, trade between the two countries actually grew, reaching over $5.6 billion in 2014, a nearly 50 per cent increase from 2009.
Israel–Turkey relations were formalized in March 1949. Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognize the Jewish state of Israel in Mideast, though does not support the Israeli occupation of and attacking Palestine. Israel made full use of its nexus with Turkey for years. The strategic partnership between the two countries had the potential to alter Middle East politics: Trade and tourism were booming, the Israel Air Force practiced maneuvers in Turkish airspace and Israeli technicians were modernizing Turkish combat jets. There were also plans for high-tech cooperation and water sharing.
Tourism brings plenty of money to Turkey which was an important tourism destination for Israelis. Istanbul is a 90-minute flight from Tel Aviv. No visas are required for Israelis to visit Turkey, while Turkish citizens with ordinary passports need a visa prior to travelling Israel. In 2008, before the Gaza War, 560,000 Israelis vacationed in Turkey. Israelis’ share of Turkey’s total tourism declined from 3% to 0.05%. The number of Arab tourists in Turkey, by contrast, increased to about 1.4 million visitors in the first part of 2011, a jump from about 912,000 in the whole of 2009. Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated in June 2012: “We do not need Israeli tourists. We have successfully filled their places”
In 1996, Turkey and Israel signed a free-trade agreement. In 1997, a double-taxation prevention treaty went into effect. A bilateral investment treaty was signed in 1998. Israeli-Turkish trade rose 26% to $2 billion in first half of 2011 from $1.59 billion in the first half of 2010. According to the Israeli Chamber of Commerce, Israeli exports to Turkey rose 39% to $950 million, and imports from Turkey rose 16% to $1.05 billion. Turkey is Israel’s sixth-largest export destination. Chemicals and oil distillates are the primary exports. Turkey purchases high-tech defense equipment from Israel, whereas Turkey supplies Israel with military boots and uniforms. Israeli import of Turkish vegetable products has remained steady since 2007, and imports of prepared foodstuffs, beverages and tobacco doubled from 2007 to 2011.
Relations between Israel and Turkey took a downturn during the term of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as Turkish Prime Minister. Though Erdoğan had paid an official visit to Israel in 2005 and initially had maintained business-as-usual relations, his strong pro-Palestine and anti-Israeli rhetoric is considered to have symbolized a shift of Turkish interests in the Middle East and realignment from fascism based Israeli orientation to Islamist pro-Arab stance of Turkish Republic. Most notably, the relations deteriorated after the Gaza War in 2008–09 when Israeli military on the eve of general poll that killed thousands of people of Palestine in order to make Jews pro-settlement supporters and the 2010 Gaza flotilla raid.
In March 2013, Israel apologized for the raid, opening path for normalized relations. However, despite US-mediation, no progress has been achieved in reconciliation through 2013. With the scandal over alleged Turkish involvement in exposure of special agents of Israel in Iran in October 2013, the relations between Israel and Turkey have hit a new low.
Through USA, Israel continued to pursue its Turkey goal by all possible means, mainly triclomatic ones. And it achieved its objective as relations resumed between the countries in December 2015.
Turkey’s estrangement from Russia seems to have caused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to revive talks on restoring relations with Israel. Only his demand for an end to the blockade of Gaza stands in the way. Turkey would never abandon its firm Palestine policy in favor of Israeli occupational crimes.
Erdogan broke off diplomatic relations when Israeli troops boarded a Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, as it sought to breach the Gaza blockade in 2010. Ten people — nine Turkish citizens and a Turkish-American — were killed. This week, Erdogan repeated his demand for an end to the blockade. Yet he also said that a rapprochement with Israel would be “beneficial for us, Israel and Palestine” and indeed the entire region.
Relations will, however, remain fragile due to certain political realities in both countries. Prior to the voting of the UN General Assembly Turkish Foreign Minister stated that it was time for Israel to look into the mirror. Shortly after the voting of the UN General Assembly Turkish then Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu stated that Israel should question why it did not have the support by the majority of countries at the Palestine Vote in the UN General Assembly and declared that Palestine was now a state. As long as the Israeli-Palestinian issue remains unsolved and the Islamist-oriented ideological core prevails in Turkey, bilateral ties in my opinion will remain vulnerable to a new crisis.
That seems to the bottom line now.
[Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal is Specialist on State Terrorism; Chancellor-Founder of Center for International Affairs (CIA); Independent Analyst; Chronicler of Foreign occupations & Freedom movements (Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Xinjiang, Chechnya, etc.). He is also former university Teacher. He can be contacted at [email protected]]