Turkey and Israel are holding diplomatic talks in an effort to ‘normalise’ the relationship between the two countries, after relations deteriorated six years ago following the murder of 10 Turkish pro-Palestinian activists near the Gaza strip in 2010.
Turkish newspaper Hürriyet says that Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has confirmed that “Israel and Turkey will publish a statement about this in the coming days.”
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Turkey has repeatedly insisted on three conditions for normalisation: the lifting of the Gaza blockade, compensation for the Mavi Marmara victims and an apology for the incident.
In 2013, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paved the way for reconciliation by issuing an apology. Although it is thought that arrangements were made over a compensation deal for the families of those killed aboard the Mavi Marmara, a number of outstanding issues remain.
Negotiators are thought to have been meeting during the past several weeks in Geneva, to discuss the points of contention, which are thought to include Turkey’s demand for free access to the Gaza Strip and Israel’s demand that Hamas – which is supported by Erdogan- be expelled fully from Turkey.
However, Kuwaiti-based newspaper al-Jarida says that Turkey’s Defence Minister Ismet Yilmaz has sent envoys to Israel to discuss the possible sale of Israeli weapons including unmanned aerial vehicles as part of the reconciliation package.
Apparently, Israeli officials are demanding to know whether Turkey would use such weapons against Kurdish rebels near the Turkey-Syria border. Turkey has yet to respond to Israel’s request.
Israel’s Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon took a cautious tone this week, saying, “I am not sure if we can arrive to an agreement,” if Turkey continues to back the likes of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. He added, “They must comply with the terms of our agreement so that we can overcome these obstacles.”
‘’Turkey is hosting Hamas in Istanbul and we will not accept that. It supports Hamas generally. That must be discussed. They need to reach our conditions in order to reach a political arrangement.”
Despite the low level of diplomatic relations between the two countries during the past years, trade relations have been booming to reach a record, Turkish journalist Cem Seymen, a reporter for CNN Turk, told EJP, on a visit to Israel this week.
‘’For Israel, the normalisation process is needed because trade relations reached a historical high level,’’ he says.
Seymen also mentions the role of energy in the wake of the recent discovery of large natural gas reserves in the Mediterranean off the Israeli coast. A rapprochement with Turkey would bring financial benefits for Israel as until now Turkey only relied on Russian gas.
As Ankara seeks to diversify its sources of gas – in particular given the context of crisis with Moscow- Israel’s proximity suddenly becomes extremely convenient.
This crisis, as well as the refugee crisis, has also led to Turkey improving dramatically its relations with the European Union in recent time.
The EU leaders have agreed that Turkey is the only solution in the way in the refugee crisis. ‘’In addition, the crisis with Russia also paved the way for Turkey to improve its relations with the countries in the region, including Israel,’’ says Cem Seymen.
The crisis between Ankara and Moscow after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet escalated to such an extent that Erdogan was reminded of the necessity of his former ally.
Israeli analystGallia Lindenstrauss, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, puts the normalization of relations in the context ofthe “chaos” in the Middle East.
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has recently said that his country and Israel “need each other.”
“Turkey now knows it needs NATO and the United States. It has always been an American interest that Israel and Turkey reach an agreement,” Lindenstrauss said.
According to Yossi Melman, an Israeli journalist and writer who specializes in security and intelligence affairs, even if Israel and Turkey soon announce an end to their diplomatic crisis, relations between the two countries will not go back to how they once were.
‘’The golden era of cooperation in the security and intelligence fields between the two countries up until a decade ago will certainly not come back,’’ he writes.
Turkey was a large and important market for Israel’s security industries, which provided drones, intelligence systems, tank and planes upgrades, and more. For years, there was close cooperation between the Mossad and Turkey’s intelligence agency, the MIT, which included meetings, an exchange of each countries’ situational assessments and more, notes Melman.
‘’If the golden formula is found, and the crisis between Turkey and Israel is indeed solved, it will be part of a three-way deal: Israel-Egypt-Turkey, in which the strategic alliance with Egypt is much more important to Israel than rehabilitating ties with Turkey,’’ he stresses.
Will Turksih President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visit Israel in the wake of a normalisation of the relations between the two countries ?
Cem Seymen believes this is possible. ‘’ US President Obama is visiting Cuba , a historical visit after years of crisis. A visit by Erdogan in Israel in the near future would not be surprising…’’