Turkish warship docks in Haifa for first time in over a decade

“The docking is part of Israel’s cooperation with and support of NATO,” an IDF statement said. * This is the first Turkish warship to dock in Israel since the Mavi Marmara incident.

 Haifa Port (photo credit: Courtesy)
Haifa Port
(photo credit: Courtesy)

A Turkish warship anchored in Haifa Port on Saturday for the first time in more than a decade, as part of a NATO patrol in the region.

The TCG Kemalreis (F-247), a Barbaros-class frigate, docked in the northern port along with the USS Forrest Sherman, an American guided-missile destroyer.

“The docking is part of Israel’s cooperation with and support of NATO,” the IDF said.

The Kemalreis, one of the most advanced ships in the Turkish Navy, is the first warship to dock here in Israel since 2010, after Ankara broke off relations with the Jewish state following the Mavi Marmara incident, causing an unprecedented diplomatic crisis between the then-allies.

Ankara and Jerusalem for years had close ties in the defense industry, including in security cooperation, intelligence sharing and military training. The relationship began in the 1960s and peaked in the 1990s with the 1994 Defense Cooperation Agreement and the 1996 Military Training Cooperation Agreement.

 Port of Haifa. (credit: Prof. Noa Shenkar) Port of Haifa. (credit: Prof. Noa Shenkar)

With those two deals, the military-security ties became one of the closest in the Middle East, with Israel – according to foreign reports – even providing intelligence to Turkey in its fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Ankara cooperating with Jerusalem on Iran by providing info it had gathered.

In addition, Turkey used to be one of Israel’s primary arms customers, with Israeli firms upgrading Turkish M60 tanks and F-4E planes. Israeli firms also supplied Turkey with armed Heron drones, electronic reconnaissance and surveillance systems, and advanced missile systems and smart ammunition.

The two countries also used to participate in annual joint navy and air force drills, but following the downgrading of ties, Israel turned instead to Turkey’s adversaries, Greece and the Republic of Cyprus, for military exercises.

One such exercise took place in mid-July between the IAF and the Hellenic Air Force, where pilots practiced aerial refueling and dogfights.

What happened after the Mavi Marmara crisis?

Following the Mavi Marmara crisis, Ankara froze all defense industry projects and military cooperation with Jerusalem. Turkey also exerted efforts to isolate Israel from military cooperation with NATO. Following a 2016 reconciliation deal, Ankara withdrew its longstanding veto against Jerusalem being accepted as a partner nation to the organization (but not a member).

Six years after Turkey broke off relations, the two countries normalized ties and exchanged ambassadors, but the ties once again cooled after the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem in 2018.

Last month, Israel and Turkey once again agreed to re-establish full diplomatic ties, but Jerusalem does not plan to restart military cooperation yet with Ankara, and no drills or meetings are planned between the visiting Kemalreis crew and the Israel Navy. The two ships are set to leave Haifa port on Tuesday.