Erdogan says Turkey interested in improving relations with Israel

Earlier this month, Ankara reportedly appointed Ufuk Ulutas, 40, from its Foreign Ministry as an Ambassador to Israel.

TURKISH PRESIDENT Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
TURKISH PRESIDENT Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Turkey would like better ties with Israel, but claims its policy towards the Palestinians remains “unacceptable,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday, adding that talks at the intelligence level are continuing between the two sides.
Turkey has been condemned by the US for hosting senior Hamas terrorists twice this year, and Ankara’s ruling party often compares Israel to Nazi Germany.
Turkey and Israel, once allies, have had a bitter falling out in recent years. Ankara, which illegally occupies northern Syria and persecutes Kurds, has repeatedly condemned Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank and its treatment of Palestinians.
It has also criticized recent US-brokered rapprochements between Israel and four Muslim countries. Turkey has relations with Israel but threatened to break ties with the United Arab Emirates after Abu Dhabi normalized relations with Jerusalem.
“The Palestine policy is our redline. It is impossible for us to accept Israel’s Palestine policies; their merciless acts there are unacceptable,” Erdogan told reporters after Friday prayers in Istanbul. Turkey has claimed it wants to “liberate al-Aqsa,” asserting that “Jerusalem is ours” in the past year.
Erdogan also hinted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership was partially to blame for the frayed ties between the two countries.
“If there were no issues at the top level [in Israel], our ties could have been very different,” he said, adding that the two countries continue to share intelligence. “We would have liked to bring our ties to a better point.”
THIS IS not the first time Turkey’s ruling AKP Party has attempted to meddle in Israel’s internal domestic politics, having previously urged Israelis to choose a different leader. Ankara also sought to secure close links to the Trump administration, often bashing US President-elect Joe Biden during the campaign. Since Biden won, Turkey has tried to smooth over its rapidly souring ties with the US, EU and Israel.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on Erdogan’s statement.
Israel and Turkey have had diplomatic relations since 1949, but relations have frayed over the last 15 years, due to the rise of Erdogan’s AKP and his frequent bashing of Israel, including his frequent comparisons of Israel to the Nazis. This became particularly pronounced in the aftermath of the first Gaza war at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009.
The situation became especially tense after the 2010 IDF raid on the Gaza flotilla ship, the Mavi Marmara, which led to the death of 10 Turkish activists. The activists on the Marmara, many of them hard-core members of IHH – a Turkish NGO – with links to Turkey’s ruling party, fought with Israeli soldiers.
Turkey and Israel have expelled ambassadors a number of times in the last decade, as full diplomatic ties have been downgraded and upgraded.
The last flare up was in 2018, when Turkey and Israel expelled each other’s ambassadors after Ankara objected to the US moving its embassy to Jerusalem. Tensions had also flared up in response to the Israeli-Palestinian violence along the Gaza border.
In August of this year, Israel accused Turkey of giving passports to a dozen Hamas members in Istanbul, describing the move as “a very unfriendly step.” British press has also reported Hamas planned terror and cyberattacks from Turkey.
The Mossad, according to the Times of London, views Turkey’s current aggressive leadership as a problem – and the IDF views it as a challenge, according to reports this year.
ISRAEL HAS formalized ties with four Muslim countries this year – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. It said on Wednesday it was working towards normalizing ties with a fifth Muslim nation, possibly in Asia.
Ankara has slammed the US-brokered deals. Turkey also slammed Bahrain’s decision to formalize ties as a blow to efforts to defend the Palestinian cause. Turkey, meanwhile, has invaded northern Syria, ethnically cleansed Kurds from Afrin and mobilized extremists and Syrian mercenaries to fight Armenians, Syrians and Libyans, all while threatening fellow NATO ally Greece.
Israel has closer relations with Greece and Cyprus, with whom they have recently made a gas pipeline deal that Ankara has sought to prevent.
Palestinians see the US-brokered deals as a betrayal of a long-standing demand that Israel first meet their demand for statehood. Israel established full relations with Egypt in 1979 and with Jordan in 1994.
Azerbaijan reportedly has been working to renew ties between Israel and Turkey, Walla news reported on Wednesday. Jerusalem and Ankara both offered the government of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev military support during the recent Nagorno-Karabakh War between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Aliyev allegedly phoned Erdogan this week and suggested various paths towards improving diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel. Azerbaijan and Israel have close strategic ties and Baku has purchased drones from Jerusalem. Azerbaijan has historically sought to stay out of disputes in the wider Middle East.
Erdogan was reported to have responded positively to the overtures, according to Walla, and officials in Azerbaijan told their Israeli counterparts that the Turkish politician was swayed into anti-Israeli rhetoric due to the influence of former aids.
Last week, Azeri Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov allegedly called Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi to discuss the same issue, with the message that his country would be interested to see both of its allies enjoying improved relations.
Al-Monitor reported earlier this month that Ankara appointed 40-year-old Ufuk Ulutas from its Foreign Ministry as an Ambassador to Israel. Ulutas has accused Israel of displacing millions and committing massacres, and has bashed Zionism as a “racist” ideology.
Turkey’s repeated leaks to foreign press may be designed to make it appear that Ankara is moderating its aggressive anti-Israel policies. It may also be an attempt to create division between Israel and its new partners in Greece and the UAE.