Despite the widespread belief that ties between Israel and Turkey are virtually
non-existent, if fact, Israeli and Turkish officials have held a series of
meetings, the most recent three weeks ago, according to Israeli officials who
confirmed media reports in both countries. The goal has been to find a formula
for an apology acceptable to Ankara for the 2010 “Gaza flotilla affair” in which
Israeli troops killed nine Turkish citizens during a violent clash on a ship
trying to break the Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.
ongoing dialogue and we’re speaking to them and trying to find a formula that
they will accept,” a senior Israeli official told The Media Line on condition of
anonymity. “They’re upset with us and we believe that is not fair.”
Turkish weekly Radikal reported that Israel may apologize to Turkey for
“operational errors” during the raid on the Mavi Marmara in advance of President
Obama’s visit to the Middle East next month. He has pressed for reconciliation
between the two American allies.
Turkey has demanded a formal apology for
Israel’s conduct during the flotilla. In May 2010, Israeli naval commandos
boarded the Turkish-flagged ship which set out to break the blockade Israel
implemented when Hamas took control of the Gaza in 2007 in order to prevent
materials that could be used militarily from falling into Hamas’ hands. The
soldiers encountered violent resistance and nine Turkish citizens were killed in
the clashes that ensued. Turkey insists those killed were civilian passengers
while the Israel insists they were agents provocateur In addition to the
apology, Turkey is demanding compensation for the families of those killed, and
an end to Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.
Israel has expressed “regret”
that innocent civilians were killed but has refused to “apologize”, saying the
soldiers were attacked when they boarded the ship. A United Nations commission
has upheld that account, but also accused Israel of using disproportionate
“In the past, some parts of the Israeli government including
Defense Minister Ehud Barak and to some extent even Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu, were ready to go pretty far to apologize to Turkey,” Dror Zeevi, an
expert on Turkey at Ben Gurion University told The Media Line. “But this was
blocked by others in the government, especially former Foreign Minister Avigdor
Lieberman is currently on hiatus as foreign minister as he
faces charges of corruption and Netanyahu is enmeshed in efforts to form a new
“It is possible that the new Israeli government will go even
further towards an apology,” he said.
In another sign of possible
reconciliation, Israel this month supplied advanced electronic warfare systems
to the Turkish Air Force. It was the first exchange of military equipment with
Turkey since the raid in 2010. The warfare systems will significantly upgrade
the capabilities of the Turkish Air Force’s early warning systems. They are made
by ELTA, a subsidiary of state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries, and were
ordered by Boeing, the American aircraft manufacturer, for
Despite the tensions, economic ties continue. Turkey is Israel’s
sixth largest export destination and the level of trade between the two
countries rose to $2 billion dollars in 2011. Israel supplies Turkey with
high-tech defense equipment. Israel buys Turkish military boots and uniforms as
well as vegetables and other processed foods.
On the diplomatic level,
the relations are handled by second secretaries, the lowest level of diplomatic
representatives. Turkey’s ambassador to Israel was recalled after the flotilla
affair and Israel’s ambassador to Turkey was asked to leave Ankara.
insisted that the relations be on the level of second secretary,” the Israeli
official said. “We’ve made it very clear that we want to go back to where we
were before all of this happened. At the same time, I don’t see any real
evidence that Turkey is interested in that happening.”
But money can
sometimes override politics. In this case, Israel’s recent discoveries of huge
quantities of natural gas off its coast could push the two countries to move
beyond their differences. Earlier this month, Israel proposed building a
pipeline under the Mediterranean Sea to southern Turkey. The pipeline would be
used to market the natural gas to Western Europe, and would cost an estimated $2
billion. It would also ensure Turkey a cheap supply of natural
Before the flotilla, Israel and Turkey had extremely close
relations. As a large Muslim country, Israel especially valued that
relationship, with the Turks often functioning as mediator between Israel and
the Islamic world, and in particular, with the Islamist Hamas movement. Now,
Turkey has been frozen out of any mediating role.
Israel and Turkey are
both threatened by the ongoing chaos in Syria. Both countries share borders with
Syria, and both are concerned that violence could spill over into their borders.
In October, a stray Syrian mortar shell killed five Turkish citizens. Turkey is
also hosting at least 150,000 Syrian refugees in camps along the
Israel, for its part, is concerned that the large chemical
weapons stocks in Syria could fall into the hands of Iranian and Syrian-proxy Hezbollah guerillas in southern Lebanon. Israel also fears that Syria could
strike Israel as a way of diverting attention from the civil war.
relations between Israel and Turkey are likely to remain tense, analysts say
better ties would benefit both sides.
“I think the Turkish government has
come to the conclusion that some kind of working relationship with Israel is
necessary, and Israel is certainly interested in that,” said Zeevi.
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