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Israel and Turkey Diplomatic Ties

Week of August 21, 2022

On August 21, 2022 - Israel and Turkey agreed to restore full diplomatic ties. The

rapprochement between the two countries began in March of 2022, when Israeli President Isaac Herzog visited Ankara, Turkey at the invitation of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Last week’s announcement paved the way to the return of Ambassadors and consuls general and an immediate expansion of trade, including a security agreement that will allow Israeli airlines to fly through Istanbul, one of the world’s most important traffic hubs.

In the late 1990’s - Turkey was one of Israel’s closest allies. While Turkey is a devoutly Moslem country, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, established a set of checks and balances that successfully ensured the government remained secular. Israel did not withhold any of its modern weaponry from its Turkish allies. The crown jewel of their defense ties was the modernization of Turkish F-4E Phantom aircraft by a consortium of Israeli companies: Israel Aircraft Industries was responsible for the aircraft, Elbit for the avionics, and RAFAEL for integrating the Popeye Air-to-Surface missile. Popeye was capable of carrying 800 pounds of explosives more than 100 kilometers and flying through a window. I was the lead engineer for that program. Our relationship with the Turks was spectacular. They were professional, well trained, and driven. The idea that they could someday change allegiances and put one of those Popeye missiles through my own bedroom window never crossed my mind.

In 2003 - Erdoğan was elected Prime Minister. Relations with Israel continued to thrive for the first six years of his term in office. Erdoğan even served as a mediator between Israel and her Arab neighbors. However, relations began to sour in 2008 when Israel launched Operation Cast Lead to stop rocket attacks launched on Israeli towns from the Gaza Strip. Erdoğan became a constant source of invective against Israel. The final blow to Turkish-Israeli relations occurred in May 2010. A flotilla of ships sailed from Turkey to break an Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip imposed in 2007 after Hamas took control. The Israeli Navy forcibly boarded the lead ship, the Mavi Marmara. When the soldiers were attacked by 40 of the passengers with steel clubs and gunfire, they returned fire killing nine of the Turks. The Turkish government demanded an apology, monetary compensation, and an end to the naval blockade of Gaza. Israel refused to comply and relations between the two countries were summarily severed. An Israeli commission subsequently found both the blockade and the actions of the Israeli soldiers legal under international law.

In 2013 - President Obama attempted to push the two former allies together. At the behest of the President, Prime Minister Netanyahu phoned Erdoğan and officially apologized for the Mavi Marmara incident, although compensation was not offered and the naval blockade around Gaza continues to this day. In 2016, normalization was declared and Ambassadors returned to their posts. Yet, Erdoğan’s anti-Israel rhetoric continued unabated. Then in 2018, the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and Erdoğan once again downgraded relations and recalled the Ambassador.

So here we are again.

Has anything changed? Will this rapprochement be as short-lived as the previous one?

Michael Doran at the Hudson Institute and Jonathan Schanzer at the Federation for the Defense of Democracies, two men who have worked with USIEA, have very differing opinions on the subject. Doran is optimistic. He believes that this poses a win-win situation for both countries– militarily, diplomatically, and economically. He believes that a strong Turkish-Israeli alliance lies squarely in U.S. interests as it weakens both Russia and Iran. Schanzer is highly skeptical. While he clearly recognizes the benefits of an alliance between the two countries, he believes that Turkey’s unmitigated support for Hamas in Gaza will eventually undo what has been accomplished. He believes that eventually a shooting war will break out between Hamas and Israel, forcing Turkey to choose between the two. Schanzer writes,

“Indeed, cold peace is an optimistic outcome for a government that still hosts a Hamas headquarters in the heart of Istanbul.”

Wishing you a great week,

Ari Sacher

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