Turkey, reinstating relations with Russia and Israel A breakdown in a number of diplomatic relations has left Turkey isolated in the Middle East. Will new agreements mend broken ties and increase Ankara's influence in the region?
A breakdown in a number of diplomatic relations has left Turkey isolated in the Middle East. Will new agreements mend broken ties and increase Ankara’s influence in the region?
During late June 2016, Turkey’s President attempted to break out of diplomatic isolation by ending months of tension the country had shared with both Russia and Israel.
Turkey’s fear of Kurdish nationalism has also strained its alliance with the United States. Washington supports Syrian Kurdish militias mainly fighting against the Islamic State, but Turkey – which has seen a resurgence of Kurdish attacks on its security forces – sees the militias as an extension of the PKK armed group – which it considers a terrorist organisation.
As well has suffering relations with Russia, Israel, the USA and Kurdish groups, Turkey’s vocal support for the Muslim Brotherhood has caused disagreements with Egypt. While Turkey’s Syria policy has failed to remove Bashar al–Assad – putting its influence in the region in an even less secure position.
On top of this, Turkey’s relations with the EU seem to be worsening as its membership application into the union has stalled.
The Turkish Prime Minister said the aim in seeking renewed relations with Russia and Israel was to repair ties with other states in the region – not only with Russia and Israel, but also with all countries around the Black Sea and Mediterranean. He was quoted saying that, “As Turkey, our basic principle is to want for others what we want for ourselves”.
One former Turkish diplomat and visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe said, “The main driving factor behind this readjustment is the realisation that Turkey’s foreign policy entrepreneurship of the post-Arab spring era has failed — a belated realisation that this ideological and uncertain foreign policy did not serve but rather undermined Turkey’s national interests”.
Turkey – Russia, new agreement
During last November, when Turkey shot down a Russian SU-24 warplane, which it said has violated its airspace, Russia’s President reacted with fury, condemning it as a “stab in the back”, while also calling for an apology.
Turkey’s President responded that Russia should be the country to apologise for straying into Turkey’s airspace near Syria. Things between the two countries got worse, and relations continued to deteriorate as both leaders began to accuse one another of supporting terrorists in Syria.
Russia began to place sanctions on its trade with Turkey, prohibiting and restricting the imports of Turkish goods such as meat, dairy, fish, nuts, fruits and vegetables. Russia’s president also advised Russian not to visit Turkey, causing damage to Turkey’s economy.
But as Russian sanctions have begun to take their toll on Turkey, the President has reconsidered his stance. In an apology letter, sent to the Kremlin by the Turkish President, he called Russia a “friend and strategic partner”. Turkey, he added, was “ready for any initiatives to relieve the pain and severity of the damage done”.
On 29 June 2016, the Turkish President and his Russian counterpart held their first phone conversation since the downing of the jet. After the phone call, the Turkish presidency reiterated both sides commitment to reinvigorate bilateral relations and fight terrorism together. The two leaders also agreed to remain in contact and meet in person.
Turkey – Israel, renewed relations
Relations between Turkey and Israel significantly deteriorate 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. Another Turkish activist later died of his wounds. The two governments withdrew their respective ambassadors in 2011.
Israel apologised to Turkey for the raid on the flotilla in 2013. But the reconciliation talks stalled, and relations between the two countries began to fray further during Israel’s 2014 military assault on Gaza against Hamas.
On 26 June 2016, it was announced that Turkey and Israel had struck a deal to restore diplomatic relations. The agreement – that was made in Rome – will see Israel pay 20 million USD to a fund to support relatives of the Mavi Marmara victims. Turkey will also drop legal claims against the Israeli state and Israeli military personnel in connection with the raid.
The deal also allows Turkey to uphold its status as protector of Palestinian rights, notably shipping aid to Gaza, and opens the door for talks on a gas pipeline leading from Israel through Turkey into Europe.
The agreement was welcome by the USA, which sees Israel and Turkey as its closest allies in the region. The US Secretary of state said “we are obviously pleased”, and “this is a step we wanted to see happen”.
One Turkish official said the restoration of ties would allow Ankara to “intervene in the humanitarian crisis in Gaza”, and offer aid, and make infrastructure investments in the enclave. Turkey would also be allowed to launch “major projects” in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, including an industrial zone in the northern city of Jenin.
The American group Noble Energy and Israel’s Delek have already held talks on potential Turkish buyers of Israeli gas. One analysts from Israel’s Institute of Strategic Studies said that although “there is still a lot of mistrust between the two sides […] given the regional turmoil; it is good to have Israeli-Turkish cooperation”.