Relations between Israel and Turkey thaw with possible gas pipeline deal

Although Israel and Turkey have shared a turbulent relationship in the past, Israel’s discovery of its vast offshore gas reserves and Turkey’s need to diversify its oil imports could lead to the strengthening of relations between the two states.

Both Turkey and Israel enjoyed close relations in the 1990’s, when a common world outlook led to a strong military bond and growing trade. The relations between the two nations continued to flourish until the Justice and Development party (AKP) won the Turkish elections of 2002 and proceeded to move Turkey in an Islamist direction, strengthening bonds with Hamas in Gaza.

Relations between both Turkey and Israel continued to weaken and eventually took a dramatic turn in May 2010, when Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish activists while storming the Mavi Marmara, a ship in a convoy seeking to break an Israeli naval blockade of Gaza. This situation led to a deeper political rift between the former allies, however, there could be potential for a thawing in their relations with a new possible gas deal.

By the end of 2010 Israel had discovered that the Mediterranean Sea off its coast contained a huge natural gas field in its Levantine basin. The gas field is estimated to contain 17 trillion cubit feet of gas, which is equivalent to almost a year’s worth of European gas demands, and enough to cover Israel’s gas needs for a generation.

As Turkey is dependent on imports for almost all of its energy and is looking to diversify away from Russian gas after a recent breakdown in Turkey-Russian relations, Turkey’s Zorlu Energy is in talks with Israeli firms over the potential for a pipeline to carry Israeli natural gas to Turkey. Other Turkish companies including Turcas Petrol, are also interested in a pipeline project, with officials from both Turkey and Israel saying that such a project could be worth up to 3.5 billion USD, and the CEO of Turcas predicting that Israel gas will flow to Turkey by 2020.

It seems as though access to Israeli natural gas is compelling Turkey to overcome its aversion to the Jewish state. In the relations between the two counties, gas remains a strategic asset, and potential energy exports may end up forming the basis of a deep and lasting friendship between Turkey and Israel.

However, the news that the Turkish and Israeli governments could possibly renew diplomatic relations after years of tensions has led some to fear a significant shift in the power structures of the Middle East, particularly because both countries share similar foreign policies on Syria and Iran.

Questions have also been raised over whether the strengthening of relations between Turkey and Israel could threaten relations between Turkey and Hamas. Despite this, Ahmed Yousef, a senior Hamas official has reassured doubters by claiming “We believe that from what we know about the Turks, from what’s been said to our leaders, from all these statements and knowing the Turkish people that their hearts and minds are with the Palestinian people”.