How Israel and Turkey benefit from restoring relations

What prompted Israel and Turkey to mend their ties?

The August 17 announcement that Israel and Turkey will normalize diplomatic relations and exchange ambassadors comes shortly after Turkey improved relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Turkish government has determined that de-escalation with Israel and other regional powers best serves its interests as it tackles economic issues at home and focuses on key national security concerns, such as Kurdish nationalism and relations with Cyprus and Greece.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid shake hands during a press conference in Ankara, Turkey.
Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images

The improvement in Israeli-Turkish relations is a significant change. Over the past twelve years, relations have been strained. The main problem has been Israel’s approach to the Palestinian territories; specifically, its policy toward the Gaza Strip, which includes a longstanding Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the region and periodic Israeli military interventions. Since the early 2000s, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party has been the patron of Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza. In 2018, Turkey downgraded relations with Israel and expelled the Israeli ambassador from Ankara after Israeli forces killed 60 Palestinians on the Gaza border during a protest against the Donald Trump administration’s handover of Israel. American Embassy in Tel Aviv in Jerusalem. In response, the Israelis banished the Turkish ambassador.

What does each country gain by restoring diplomatic relations now?

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For Israel, it has always been important to establish relations with non-Arab countries in and around the Middle East. Turkey is also important to Israel’s national security for, among other things, enabling closer Israeli intelligence surveillance of Iran. In addition, the Israelis hope that improved ties with Turkey will put pressure on Hamas, which has established a presence in Istanbul and directed operations from Turkey over the past decade.

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Ankara seems less interested in Israel per se than in how resuming diplomatic ties can improve its position in Washington. The Turkish government believes that pro-Israel groups and Jewish advocacy organizations will help Turkey on Capitol Hill regarding the sale of F-16 fighters to Turkey and other import issues in Ankara. It is not unprecedented. In the late 1990s, strong Israeli-Turkish security ties found much support in Washington, including among pro-Israel groups and American Jewish community leaders.

One of the most important factors behind the rapprochement is natural gas, which Israel discovered off its coast in 2010. Among the places where Israel would like to sell this gas is Europe. The most economically viable way to get Israeli gas to Europe is through Turkey. Both countries have everything to gain economically and diplomatically if they play a role in reducing Europe’s energy dependence on Russia.

How does this fit into Turkey’s broader efforts towards rapprochement in the region?

After a decade of unnecessarily aggressive policies and rhetoric towards Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan determined that Turkey’s regional posture had reached its limits: Ankara was isolated and had little or no achievements to justify its approach.

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Tensions between Turkey and Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates varied, but the friction was based on Turkish accusations that these Arab countries were sources of regional instability. Egyptian, Saudi and Emirati leaders responded that it was not their policy, but rather Erdogan’s, that had sown regional hostility. During this period of heightened tension, Arab countries improved diplomatic relations and strengthened security cooperation with Cyprus and Greece, Turkey’s enemies in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey, meanwhile, has become a strategic partner of Qatar and has established a military presence in the Gulf country, which between 2017 and 2021 was subject to a blockade imposed by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

As President Erdogan faces elections in the second half of 2023, he is seeking to forge better ties with his former enemies in the hope that this will help improve Turkey’s struggling economy through investment and trade. currencies; generate goodwill for Ankara in Washington; and improve Turkey’s position in the Eastern Mediterranean.

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What are the implications for Israel’s cooperation with Cyprus and Greece?

During the years of tension between Israel and Turkey, Israel’s relations with Cyprus and Greece improved considerably. Diplomatic, economic and security cooperation has deepened. Tourism grew rapidly as Israelis abandoned Turkey’s Mediterranean coast in favor of Cyprus and the Greek islands. The Israel Defense Forces trained with their Cypriot and Greek counterparts. Cyprus has become a customer of the Israeli Iron Dome air defense system.

The Israelis will now have to balance the potential geostrategic and economic benefits of cooperation with Turkey with Jerusalem’s well-developed ties with Athens and Nicosia. Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who has played a leading role in the Israeli-Turkish rapprochement, sought to reassure Cyprus and Greece that Israel remains committed to the progress it has made with those countries. This is an important message because while Turkey has defused with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and now Israel – Egypt remains an obstacle – Ankara has become more aggressive in the Aegean, increasing its military overflights and incursions. Greek territory while continuing to threaten the Republic of Cyprus. Turkey has more than thirty thousand soldiers deployed in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, an entity bordering Cyprus that only Turkey recognizes.

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