Normalization of Turkey’s Relations with Israel and Regional Conditions

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Mohammad Ali Dastmali
Expert on Turkey Affairs

Negotiations between Turkey and Israel in the Italian capital city of Rome took place under conditions when Binali Yildirim, the new Turkish prime minister, had sent one of his most experienced diplomats in the field of the Middle East, that is, Feridun Sinirlioglu, to Rome as the head of Ankara’s negotiating team. Sinirlioglu is the person who has special experiences with regard to Iraq and the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and gives special importance in his diplomatic manners to security equations. At the first look, the new agreement reached between Turkey and Israel in order to normalize their relations, can be considered as a diplomatic triumph for both sides. The reality, however, which must not be forgotten is that both sides have to some extent backed down on bilateral demands and conditions they had already set for the normalization of their ties. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had apologized to Ankara for the attack a few years ago on the Mavi Marmara ship, which carried aid to the besieged Gaza Strip, and emphasized that the apology had been witnessed by the US President Barack Obama. In fact, one can say that Israel has apologized to Turkey, but without observing conditions and diplomatic customs, which are there to make such an apology official. Turkey, on the other hand, has accepted Israel’s apology at this level.

With regard to the payment of blood money to the victims of Mavi Marmara, Israel has accepted to pay a total of USD 20 million to Turkey. However, this money is not officially given to Turkey as blood money, but as humanitarian gratuitous aid. At the same time, there is still a lot of debate on the siege of the Gaza Strip. In reality, Israel has not accepted to lift the blockade of Gaza, but has promised to make conditions easier for the people of Gaza, open the Ashdod crossing, and allow necessary measures to be taken for the establishment of electricity and water facilities in Gaza. Israel has also accepted to allow a ship carrying 14,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid such as foodstuff, medicine and other requirements, to reach the people of Gaza. While before the agreement, Israel had asked Turkey to shut down all the activities of the Palestinian resistance movement, Hamas, it has now accepted that Hamas would maintain its political activity in Turkey, but without anything that could be called military training. Turkey has also promised now to allow one of Hamas figures, called Saleh al-Arouri, to enter Turkey. Turkey has withdrawn its previous complaint against Israeli soldiers attacking the Mavi Marmara aid ship and has agreed for security and military cooperation between the two countries to continue. Tel Aviv and Ankara have also agreed to exchange ambassadors within three weeks of the agreement and start official diplomatic missions.

Turkey has also announced that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas political leader, Khaled Mashal, have been informed of all the aspects and contents of the agreement beforehand and have been politely told by Turkish officials that they had done whatever they could.

Of course, it will be clear in an overall assessment that Turkey has not achieved all its goals through these negotiations, but according to equations ruling the “realpolitik,” it could not have achieved more in bargaining with Israel.

One of the most important points, which can be singled out about this agreement, is that when Hillary Clinton was serving as secretary of state of the United States, she had frequently announced in a number of meetings with her then Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, that the United States is very eager for relations between Turkey and Israel to return to normal as soon as possible. However, now, six years later, the new agreement has been reached under conditions when one can categorically say that due to crimes committed by the Daesh terrorist Takfiri group in Iraq and Syria, and also as a result of the division among political groups in Iraq and numerous differences that exist among important countries in the Islamic world, Israel is finding itself in relatively safe and ideal conditions. Due to the fact that the volume of trade between Turkey and Israel has never crossed USD six billion under the best conditions, one can claim that the main importance of relations between the two countries should be sought in their political and security aspects. Therefore, it is important that immediately following official announcement of the agreement, Erdogan thanked his American counterpart, Barack Obama.

Normalization of relations between Turkey and Israel proved that it is not unlikely that in a not-so-far future, as a consequence of this agreement, the United States and some European countries may want to give concessions to Turkey in order to convince Ankara that Israel should become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Serious cooperation between Turkey and Israel in the field of energy, especially in gas and drilling sector, can be also considered as another important outcome of this agreement.

Key WordsTurkey, Relations, Israel, Regional Conditions, Normalization, Binali Yildirim, Middle East, Feridun Sinirlioglu, Benjamin Netanyahu, Mavi Marmara, Gaza Strip, Humanitarian Aid, Hamas, Mahmoud Abbas, Daesh, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Dastmali

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*Photo Credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters

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