Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli diplomatic officials on Wednesday downplayed speculation that Jerusalem intended to use the current tension in Russian-Turkish ties to move forward some kind of reconciliation with Ankara.
Nobody is seriously proposing this, one official said, especially at a time when a strategic relationship is blossoming between Israel and two of Turkey’s historic foes, Greece and Cyprus. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to hold a three-way summit in Cyprus next month with the leaders of Cyprus and Greece.
Reports of attempts to get closer to Turkey come on the heels of the tension spawned by the Turkish downing of a Russian plane last month, and the idea that with Turkey dependent on Russian gas, an Israeli offer to lay a gas pipeline to Turkey may be a way of vastly improving ties between the two countries.
Relations with Turkey nosedived following the Mavi Marmara
incident in 2010, though the relationship between the two countries was already on a downward spiral at that time, and indeed began to sour not long after Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected in 2002.
Despite the poor diplomatic ties, economic ties – as Netanyahu said at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference last month – “are surprisingly strong.” In fact, there was a 110 percent increase in trade between the two countries in 2014 over the previous year, with the volume of trade reaching nearly $5.5b., with a slight trade surplus in Israel’s favor.
Asked at the conference whether the victory for Erdogan in Turkey’s recent elections meant that Israel was writing off any chance of improved ties with Ankara, Netanyahu said – and this was before the downing of the Russian plane – that Israel was not “fixated” on this issue.
“We’re looking at the changing scene and seeing how we can, as I said before, diversify our markets, establish new friendships or rekindle old relationships if possible,” he said.
Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) issued a statement on Wednesday calling any attempt now to reconcile with Turkey “diplomatic folly.”
“Turkey, led by Erdogan, has not only demonstrated hostility for years toward Israel, but has also turned into a place of residency for Hamas terrorists, including the Hamas command responsible for attacks in Israel, such as the kidnapping and murder of the three youths from Gush Etzion [in 2014].”
Liberman said that Erdogan’s Turkey is also supporting Islamic radicals worldwide and fighting the Kurds under the camouflage of fighting Islamic State, an organization it is actually funding by serving as the middleman in its sale of oil.
This Turkey – which even moderate Sunni states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia are recoiling from – is not now going to change its spots and become Israel’s ally, Liberman said.