Thaw in Israel-Turkey relations may restore diplomatic ties

After five years of discord between Ankara and Jerusalem, secret negotiations taking place in Switzerland have raised expectations of an increase in their diplomatic relations.

Turkey and Israel were previously strong allies to one another, but relations between the two nations began to deteriorate following the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2008 – which Turkey labelled as being ‘very wrong’.

Strained relations shared by Ankara and Jerusalem wakened even more in 2010 when Israeli forces boarded a Turkish vessel that was carrying out humanitarian aid with the intention of breaking the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip. During the incident, nine activists were killed – including eight Turkish nationals and one Turkish American, with many others being wounded.

But after years of deep hostility between the two nations, it was revealed that secret discussions aiming to restore relations between the two nations recently took place in Switzerland. The talks were led by Yossi Cohen, the National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Israel, and Feridun Sinirlioglu, a Turkish Diplomat.

Both countries confirmed that during the discussions they agreed upon aiming towards reconciliation, and mapped out steps they will need to take in order to restore broken ties. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan confirmed, “We, Israel and the Palestinians and the region have a lot to win from a normalisation process.”

An Israeli official said that the two nations have reached an understanding, and have agreed that Israel will compensate the families of the victims killed in the 2010 naval raid. In response to this, Turkey will waive legal claims over Israel and upgrade diplomatic ties.

The normalisation process will also include the return of Turkish and Israeli ambassadors to Tel Aviv and Ankara, along with Turkey’s expulsion of a senior member of Hamas’ military wing, who has been based in Istanbul.

Due to Turkey’s need to diversify and find new energy suppliers, a potential gas deal between Israel and Turkey is also being considered. The gas deal is thought to be motivated by the recent decline in Turkey’s relations with Russia, from whom it obtains more than 50 per cent of its natural gas.

After Turkey shot down a Russian jet that invaded its airspace in November, Moscow decided to place economic sanctions on Ankara and suspend their natural-gas pipeline project. Driven by Turkey’s need to show Russia it has other gas obtaining options, once ties between Israel and Turkey are restored, the two countries will further explore cooperation on natural gas.

With Israel being a close Western ally, and Turkey being a NATO member, in 2013, President Obama attempted to restore relations between both nations by pressing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call President Erdoğan and apologise. However, at the time, Israel and Turkey could not agree on terms, with relations only now showing signs of improvement.

As such, not only is their recent reconciliation welcomed by the US and Europe, but it is also being seen as a diplomatic breakthrough in a time of extreme unrest across the Middle East, and also vital in the fight against ISIS.