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Turkey and Israel resume "full and complete" diplomatic relations

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Thursday, August 18th 2022 à 14:23 | Read 246 times

The Israeli and Turkish presidents had initiated the reconciliation in March 2022 (photo: Presidency of the Turkish Republic)
The Israeli and Turkish presidents had initiated the reconciliation in March 2022 (photo: Presidency of the Turkish Republic)
TURKEY / ISRAEL. After twelve years of quarrel, the Turkish and Israeli authorities decided, on Wednesday evening 17 August 2022, the complete restoration of their diplomatic relations. A telephone conversation between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Yair Lapid, acting Israeli Prime Minister since July 2022, preceded this announcement. "It was decided to raise the level of ties between the two countries to full diplomatic relations and to return the ambassadors and consuls general to the two countries," Yair Lapid said.

The distance between the two countries dates back to May 31, 2010 when an Israeli army commando attacked a Turkish humanitarian ship, the Mavi Marmara. Chartered by IHH, an Islamic NGO, and accompanied by an international flotilla, the ship was trying to bring aid to the people of Gaza despite the Israeli blockade. The intervention caused the death of nine Turkish activists, leading to the wrath of the Turkish government, which spoke of "state terrorism". Ankara responded the following year by expelling the Israeli ambassador.

In 2016, a timid reconciliation had begun. But a second episode deepened the rift. Sixty-two Palestinians were shot dead in May 2018 by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) on the border with the enclave. Recep Tayyip Erdogan then accused Israel of "killing children and babies" and recalled his ambassador to Israel while sending his Israeli counterpart back to Turkey. In retaliation, Israel expelled the Turkish consul general based in Jerusalem. No diplomatic exchange has taken place since.


A step-by-step rapprochement

The rapprochement was initiated in June 2021 with the arrival in power of a new coalition in Israel. With the irremovable Benyamin Netanyahu gone, Ankara wanted to reestablish ties. In March 2022, for the first time in twelve years, a state visit by Isaac Herzog, just elected Israeli president, constituted the first steps of these new relations. Two months later, Mevlüt Çavusoglu, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, returned the courtesy by visiting Israel, a first in fifteen years for a member of the government in this position. Then, in the wake of this, Yair Lapid, his counterpart at the time before becoming Prime Minister, was welcomed in Turkey.

In July 2022, a new civil aviation treaty was initialled between the two heads of diplomacy. It allows Israeli airlines to operate in Turkey again. Direct flights between the two countries will thus be able to resume soon. Cooperation has also been taking place for several weeks on security issues. The Israeli and Turkish intelligence services have foiled Iranian plans to kidnap Israeli citizens in Turkey. But also arrested ten Iranians suspected of preparing attacks against Israelis in Istanbul.

The Israeli-Turkish gas pipeline relaunched?

The re-establishment of diplomatic relations opens the way to other cooperation, especially in the tourism and economic fields, as indicated in an Israeli statement. "The renewal of ties with Turkey is an important economic asset for Israeli citizens," said Yair Lapid. A statement by the Israeli Prime Minister reveals that a joint economic commission will meet in Israel in September 2022.

Some newspapers in the region mention the possibility of resuming discussions on a gas pipeline between Israel and Turkey, which has been planned for several years. This project is essential for Ankara, which wants to compete with the EastMed gas pipeline carried since December 2017 by Greece, Cyprus and Israel, which initialled an agreement in January 2020 to implement it. Turkey, which has been at odds with Cyprus and Greece over its maritime borders since the discovery of hydrocarbons, refused to join the signatories. It even tried to scupper the dossier.

Closer ties will also promote regional stability. "The relationship of good neighbourliness and the spirit of partnership in the Middle East is important to all of us (...) Members of all religions - Muslims, Jews, Christians - can and should live together in peace," commented Isaac Herzog on Twitter.

Turkey will continue to defend the Palestinian cause

The cordial agreement is not unconditional, however. Mevlüt Çavusoglu made it clear that he would "not abandon the Palestinian cause". The Turkish Foreign Minister stressed, "We will continue to defend the rights of the Palestinians, Jerusalem and Gaza. Moreover, he said, "of course, as Turkey, we have decided to appoint an ambassador to Israel, in Tel Aviv. And not in Jerusalem... "It is important that our messages are conveyed directly through an ambassador," he added.

During his May 2022 visit to Israel, he predicted that normalisation between the two countries would have a "positive impact on the peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict". For Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the return to "normality serves to defend the rights of our Palestinian brothers and sisters."

Turkey was the first Muslim-majority country to recognise the Jewish state in 1949. Ankara had also refused to break its relations with Tel Aviv after the Six-Day War while calling for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the occupied territories in 1967.

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