Analysis: Turkey-Israel rapprochement not in the cards despite reports

Despite bilateral meeting in June, ideological differences will prove insurmountable barrier to peace.

By
August 12, 2015 22:39
3 minute read.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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There have been recent reports of talks between Israel and Turkey aimed at normalizing relations, but a significant improvement in the relationship is unlikely as long as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist AK Party remains in power.

In an interview with the Turkish daily Sabah, published on Sunday, Israel’s chargé d’affaires in Turkey, Amira Oron, said that “with the current positive attitude, I think we will be able to normalize our relations.

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“Both of our countries have to close the Mavi Marmara case in a proper way, which will suit the needs of both sides. Only then can we move on to the normalization process,” Oron said.

“It will take some time for rapprochement, and after this, we will be able to explore in what fields we can improve our relations – the energy sector, sharing information, cooperation regarding the region, and so on,” she added.

Asked about a possible decision by Israel to build a gas pipeline through Turkey, Oron responded that “both countries should first resolve their political issues and normalize relations. Only then it [the pipeline] could be actualized.”

Discussing where the reconciliation efforts currently stood, Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold told reporters last month: “I think there is an effort by both sides to see whether we can move forward... to turn over a new leaf and see whether we can improve our relations.”

Gold held an unannounced meeting in Rome in June with his Turkish counterpart, Feridun Sinirlioglu, to explore ways of improving ties, Israeli officials said.

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Israel’s diplomats, however, are going to have a difficult time getting anything more than small gestures and a continuation of economic and tourist ties from the Turks.

The Turkish government’s active promotion of Islamist forces in the region – including Hamas – will likely prove an insurmountable ideological barrier to improving relations with Israel. The country continues to serve as a hub for Muslim Brotherhood members expelled from Egypt after president Mohamed Morsi’s ouster, as well as for the Hamas organization. Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal met with Erdogan in Turkey late on Wednesday and was also due to hold a meeting with Prime Minister Ahmet Davtoglu the same evening.

In January, Davutoglu compared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the Islamist terrorists who killed 17 people in Paris in January, saying that both had commit - ted crimes against humanity. Last October, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon pointed to what he said was a Hamas base of operations in Turkey, accusing Ankara of sponsoring terrorism and arguing that this was incompatible with its membership in NATO.

Experts solicited for comment gave differing opinions on the extent of any possible rapprochement.

Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post that he doubts any normalization with relations with Turkey can occur.

Prof. Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, head of the Center for International Strategy and Security Studies (USGAM), based in Ankara, was more optimistic, telling the Post that obstacles could be overcome and a new relationship built within the context of the Iran nuclear deal, the Syrian war, and terrorism in the region.

Turkey and Israel could help bring regional stability amid the chaos, he said.

“For this, rebuilding trust and taking positive steps are very important,” Erol asserted, adding that these could be on issues that are important to the Turkish and regional publics, such as the Palestinian issue. Erol said he is optimistic that a “new future” could emerge.

George Papadopoulos, a researcher at the Hudson Institute in Washington, told the Post that he did not see a precedent for building “peace pipelines” to improve relations, referring to Israel’s efforts to export natural gas reserves to Europe via a pipeline, possibly traversing Turkey.

Energy deals are usually the effect of good neighborly relations, not the cause, he said, adding that constructing the pipeline without first ensuring stable relations was “a risk that neither Europe nor Israel can afford.”

“If Turkey’s secular minority and Western-oriented opposition were able to retake the country from the iron grip of the Islamists, the answer may be yes,” Papadopoulos argued.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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