What happened: A senior Turkish delegation visited Israel yesterday and met with senior Israeli officials to lay the groundwork for a leaders summit next month.
- According to the Israeli President’s Office, the delegation “discussed preparations for the visit of Israeli President Isaac Herzog to Turkey, bilateral ties between the two countries, as well as various regional issues,” adding that “both have agreed that the rehabilitation of relations can contribute to regional stability”.
- This was the second leg of a reciprocal visit, after Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz visited Turkey at the end of last year.
- Turkey was represented by President Erdogan’s senior adviser, İbrahim Kalın, and Deputy Foreign Minister Sadat Onal. The Turkish delegation also visited Ramallah and met with Palestinian Authority Chairman Abbas and visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
- Earlier this week, Turkish President Erdogan visited the UAE for the first time in nine years in an effort to reset relations there too.
Context: Historically, Israel and Turkey have had close relations. Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognise the State of Israel in 1949.
- Through to the early 2000s Israel and Turkey enjoyed strong security and intelligence cooperation, including Israel supplying them with advanced UAVs.
- From 2010 to 2021, trade between the two countries grew from $3.4bn per year to $8.1bn per year. Last year, approximately $6.1bn worth of products were sold to Israel, while $1.9bn worth of products were purchased from the country.
- However, Erdogan’s Islamification and his identification with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas caused a rupture in relations. In 2009 Erdogan publicly clashed with President Shimon Peres in Davos.
- A year later, the Turkish boat Mavi Marmara attempted to breach the naval blockade on Gaza. Israeli commandos boarded the ship and amid a violent confrontation nine Turks were killed.
- Turkey has also heavily criticised Israel over operations in Gaza. In 2018 Israel’s ambassador to Turkey was expelled from Ankara following the IDF response to rioting on the Gaza border.
- In recent years Turkey has hosted Hamas leaders such as Saleh al-Arouri, who remotely leads Hamas' efforts to carry out terror attacks in the West Bank.
- There have been hundreds of terrorist attacks against Israeli targets that originated in Turkey by Hamas, including planned attacks on Jerusalem’s Malha shopping mall and Teddy Stadium, the Jerusalem light rail and central bus station.
- Erdogan has also backed extremist groups that have caused provocations and incited violence on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
- Israeli officials have been careful to note that improving their relationship with Turkey will not come at the expense of the close ties formed with Greece and Cyprus. As an example, earlier this week the Head of IDF Strategic Planning Maj. Gen. Tal Kelman participated in a trilateral meeting with his counterparts from Greece and Cyprus, highlighting the importance of the “trilateral alliance”.
- The change in Turkey’s approach is seen as a result of Turkey’s dire economic situation, compounded by growing domestic criticism and ostracization by former NATO and European allies.
- The rapprochement with Israel is part of a wider Turkish charm offensive to restore relations with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt. Turkey may be hoping that Israel holds sway there too.
- Turkey is also looking to insert itself into Eastern Mediterranean natural gas by offering an alternative option to Israel from the East Med pipeline, which reportedly has been setback following the US withdrawing their support for it.
- Last week Turkish media reported that Turkish intelligence had exposed an Iranian plot to assassinate an Israeli businessman as revenge for the targeted killing of the head of the Iranian nuclear programme Mohsen Fakhrizadeh two years ago.
- In a surprise move last summer Erdogan broke the ice when he called Herzog to congratulate him on becoming president.
Looking ahead: With the importance of the ‘Hellenic triangle’, President Herzog is expected to travel to Athens and Nicosia in the next two weeks, ahead of his meeting with Erdogan.
- Herzog’s visit to Turkey is scheduled for 9th March.