Israel–Turkey relations

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Israeli–Turkish relations
Map indicating locations of Israel and Turkey

Israel

Turkey

Israeli–Turkish relations refer to the bilateral ties between Israel and Turkey. Israel–Turkey relations were formalized in March 1949.[1] Turkey was the first Muslim majority country to recognize the State of Israel.[2][3]

Military, strategic, and diplomatic cooperation between Turkey and Israel were accorded high priority by both countries, which shared concerns with respect to the regional instabilities in the Middle East.[4][5] According to a New York Times report in 1999, the strategic partnership between the two countries had the potential to alter Middle East politics: Trade and tourism were booming, the Israel Air Force practiced maneuvers in Turkish airspace and Israeli technicians were modernizing Turkish combat jets. There were also plans for high-tech cooperation and water sharing.[6]

Relations between Israel and Turkey took a downturn during the term of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as Turkish Prime Minister. Though Erdoğan had paid an official visit to Israel in 2005 and initially had maintained business-as-usual relations, his strong anti-Israeli rhetoric is considered to have symbolized an intentional shift of Turkish interests in the Middle East and realignment from secular Israeli-oriented to Islamist pro-Arab stance of Turkish Republic. Most notably, the relations deteriorated after the 2008–09 Gaza War and the 2010 Gaza flotilla raid. In March 2013, Israel apologized for the raid, opening path for normalized relations.[7][8] However, despite US-mediation, no progress has been achieved in reconciliation through 2013. With the scandal over alleged Turkish involvement in exposure of special agents of Israel in Iran in October 2013, the relations between Israel and Turkey have hit a new low.[9]

Diplomatic relations[edit]

Initial contacts[edit]

Atatürk memorial in Beersheba.
Atatürk memorial in Yehud.
Memorial for fallen Ottoman soldiers, Beersheba.

Turkey recognized the State of Israel in 1949. Turkey’s first diplomatic mission in Israel was a ”Legation” and was officially inaugurated on 7 January 1950 and the first Turkish Chief of Mission, Seyfullah Esin presented his credentials to Chaim Weisman, President of Israel. However, the Turkish Legation was downgraded to the level of “Charge d’Affaires” after the Suez Canal Crisis on 26 November 1956.

In 1958, Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion and Turkish prime minister Adnan Menderes met secretly to discuss a “peripheral pact" which included public-relations campaigns, exchange of intelligence information and military support.[10] In 1967, Turkey joined the Arab condemnation of Israel after the Six-Day War and called for Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied territories but abstained from voting in favor of a clause referring to Israel as an “aggressor state.” At a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Rabat, Morocco, Turkey opposed a resolution calling for severing diplomatic relations with Israel.[10]

As a result of positive developments in bilateral ties, the Turkish mission in Tel-Aviv was upgraded back to the level of "Legation" in July 1963 and further upgraded to the level of “Embassy” as of January 1980.

Upon Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and enunciation of Jerusalem as its eternal capital, the representation was relegated to the level of “Second Secretary” on 30 November 1980.[11]

During the 1990s[edit]

The positive atmosphere in the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process in early 1990s made it possible to raise the mutual diplomatic relations once again to Ambassadorial level and a Turkish Ambassador presented his credentials to President Chaim Herzog, on 23 March 1992, in Jerusalem.[12][13]

Israel has maintained two diplomatic missions in Turkey: its embassy is located in the capital city of Ankara, and its Consulate General is located in Turkey's largest city, Istanbul.[14] Until the recent downgrading in relations, the Israeli ambassador to Turkey was Gabby Levy,[15] and the Israeli consul-general was Mordechai Amihai.[16] These missions are responsible for Israeli consular affairs for the Marmara, Aegean, Eastern Thrace and western part of the Black Sea regions of Turkey.[17]

After AKP ascendancy[edit]

Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Israel in 2005 offering to serve as a Middle East peace mediator and looking to build up trade and military ties. Erdoğan brought a large group of businessmen on his two-day trip, which included talks with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Moshe Katsav. Erdoğan also laid a wreath at the Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem.[18][19] Erdoğan told Sharon that his Justice and Development Party regarded anti-Semitism as “a crime against humanity.” He added that Iran's nuclear ambitions were a threat not just to Israel but to “the entire world.”[20]

In early 2006, the Israeli Foreign Ministry described its country's relations with Turkey as "perfect."[21] A joint Israeli-Palestinian industrial park was being developed under Turkey's aegis. Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the Grand National Assembly of Turkey a day apart. Peres described Turkey as an "important player in the Middle East in relation to the United States, Syria and the Palestinians, as well as us."[22] According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, a spokeswoman for the Syrian Foreign Ministry said that Turkey was serving as a "channel of communication" between Syria and Israel.[23]

On a three-day visit to Ankara in November 2007, Israeli President Shimon Peres met with Turkish President Abdullah Gül, and addressed the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. Gül promised to help free three abducted Israeli soldiers: Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.[22][24]

Deterioration of relations[edit]

The Turkish government's condemnation of the 2008–2009 Israel–Gaza conflict strained relations between the two countries.[25][26] In December 1987, Turkey had already declared support for the Palestinians' right to self-determination. In 2004, Turkey had denounced Israeli assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. It described Israeli policy in the Gaza Strip as "state-sponsored terrorism".[2][3][27][28] There were demonstrations across Turkey against Israeli actions in Gaza.[29][30]

On 5 March 2009, the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported that "secret reconciliation talks at the highest level" had been held to get the Israeli-Turkish relations back on track.[31] This report was cited in the Turkish press.[32][33]

On 11 October 2009, a military aerial exercise was to consist of Turkey, Israel, the United States, and Italy. However, Turkey barred Israel from the Anatolian Eagle military exercise.[34][35]

In October 2009, following Turkey's banning Israel's participation in the Anatolian Eagle military exercise, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu objected to Turkey as a mediator, stating "Turkey can't be [an] honest broker", between Syria and Israel.[36]

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticizes Israeli policy and leaves the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland

Erdoğan harshly criticized Israel's conduct in Gaza at the World Economic Forum conference in Davos, Switzerland in January 2009.[34] After the assembled audience applauded Peres, Erdoğan said: "I find it very sad that people applaud what you said. You killed people. And I think that it is very wrong." The moderator, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius asked Erdoğan to finish, saying that people needed to go to dinner.[37] Erdoğan complained about the fact, that he was given 12 minutes to talk, whereas Peres talked for a duration of 25 minutes. Erdoğan then proceeded to leave the stage.[38][39][40]

In October 2009, Ayrılık, a prime-time serial on Turkish state television channel TRT 1 featured fictionalized scenes of Israeli soldiers shooting Palestinian children and mistreating elderly Arabs.[41] Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman criticized the program,[42] and rebuked the Turkish Ambassador in front of assembled media.[43] Lieberman subsequently apologized after Turkey threatened to withdraw its ambassador.[43]

After Hamas leader Khaled Mashal paid an official visit to Turkey, relations began to cool off.[44] In January 2010, Israel protested when an episode ("Ambush") of the Turkish soap opera Valley of the Wolves depicted Israeli intelligence spying inside Turkey and kidnapping Turkish babies. The series depicted a fictional Mossad attack on the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv in which the ambassador and his family are taken hostage. On 11 January 2010, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon met with Turkish ambassador Ahmet Oğuz Çelikkol, who was seated on a stool that was lower than Ayalon's. Ayalon allegedly turned to his aide and quipped, "The main thing is that you see that he is seated low and that we are high ... that there is one flag on the table (the Israeli flag) and that we are not smiling."[45][46]

Moshe Ya'alon, Israel's Minister of Strategic Affairs, accused Turkey of cooperating with Hamas and Iran. According to the Shin Bet, Hamas established a command post in Turkey and has used it to recruit operatives and oversee operations in the Middle East.[47] David Ignatius has reported that in 2012, Turkey revealed the names of Mossad agents to Iran.[48]

Gaza Flotilla incident[edit]

IDF photo-Pro-Palestinian activists aboard the MV Mavi Marmara; nine of them were killed by the IDF.

On 31 May 2010, nine activists (eight Turkish citizens and one Turkish-American with dual citizenship) were killed and many more wounded by Israeli troops and seven Israeli soldiers were injured on the Mavi Marmara, part of the "Gaza Freedom Flotilla",[49] a convoy of six ships carrying 663 people from 37 nations, including pro-Palestinian activists.[50] Following the raid, which took place in the Mediterranean Sea in international waters,[51] tension between the two countries mounted. One of the ships taking part was flying a Turkish flag. Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan described the raid as "state terrorism". Turkey recalled its ambassador from Israel, and summoned the Israeli ambassador to demand an explanation. The Turkish Foreign Ministry stated that the incident could lead to irreparable consequences in bilateral relations.[52]

On 2 September 2011, Turkey downgraded diplomatic ties with Israel and suspended military co-operation after the UN released its report of the Mavi Marmara raid. A statement from the Israeli prime minister's office said, "Israel hopes to find a way to overcome the dispute and will continue to work towards this goal". Turkey demanded an Israeli apology and compensation over the 31 May 2010 incident aboard the Mavi Marmara in which eight Turkish nationals and an American man of Turkish descent died when the vessel was stormed by Israeli commandos. The Israeli government refused to give one.[53]

In September 2011, Turkey expelled Israel's ambassador after a UN report found that the blockade of Gaza was legal according to international law although excessive force was used when boarding the ship.[54] Israeli officials stated that they hoped to restore ties but reiterated that they would not apologize.[55][56] Hamas praised Turkey's decision.[57][58]

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, Turkey's opposition leader, condemned the downgrade in relations with Israel, stating "No good can come of it and there is no need for us to risk our interest with petty action."[59] Faruk Logoglu, a deputy chairman of the opposition Republican People's Party, criticized Erdoğan, stating that "The probability that (Turkey's ruling) party has carried Turkey to the brink of a hot conflict is saddening and unacceptable." Alon Liel, a former Israeli ambassador to Turkey, stated that it was unlikely that Turkish forces would penetrate Israeli waters, but speculated that Turkey might to disrupt future Israeli gas exports to Cyprus and warned of a new Turkish-Egyptian alliance that could isolate Israel in the Mediterranean.[60]

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak predicted that the rift would pass in time.[61][62] At the U.N. General Assembly in September 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama asked Erdoğan to resolve the crisis with Israel.[63]

Further Turkish actions (2012-13)[edit]

The Turkish Foreign Ministry called on the international community and the United Nations to take the necessary initiatives to stop Israel’s military operation in Gaza on late 2012,[64][65] which it described as another example of Israel’s hostile policies.[66] Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu see in this attack another of Israel's "crimes of humanity."[67] Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the United Nations in 19 November of failing to act over the deadly Israeli air bombardments of Gaza, calling Israel a "terrorist state" that "massacres innocent children".[68]

During his speech in Vienna in 1 March 2013 at a United Nations event, Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdoğan devoted to dialogue between the West and Islam, decring the rising racism in Europe and the fact that many Muslims “who live in countries other than their own” often face harsh discrimination. Erdoğan described Zionism as "a crime against humanity" saying, "It is necessary that we must consider—just like Zionism, or anti-Semitism, or fascismIslamophobia."[69][70][71][72][73] In an interview to the Euronews, Shimon Peres argued that Erdoğan's statements are based on ignorance and they raise the flames of hatred.[74] On March 20, Erdoğan began an official visit to Denmark with an effort to clarify his remarks he made on February 27 at a UN conference in Vienna referring to Zionism as a crime against humanity. “Let no one misunderstand what I said. Everyone knows that my criticism [of Israel] focuses on some critical issues. It’s directed especially toward Israeli policies on Gaza,” Erdoğan said in an interview with Politiken, a Danish newspaper. Erdoğan claimed February comments were not anti-Semitic but rather a criticism of Israel’s policies.[75]

Failure of reconciliation attempts[edit]

Erdogan waving flag of Palestine to get simpathy of his voters while keep Turkey's ties with Israel & US, by Carlos Latuff.

Following US pressure on both sides, reconciliation took off in early 2013. On 22 March 2013, during a phone call with Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized for the Gaza Flotilla incident. An official statement by the Israeli government said that Netanyahu expressed regret over deterioration in bilateral relations and described the incident as unintentional, regretful and—according to an investigation—involving "operational errors".[8] Mr. Erdogan later issued a statement, where he accepted the apology on behalf of the Turkish people.[8] Israel also vowed to compensate the victims' families.[7] An Israeli statement first said that the countries had agreed to restore normal diplomatic relations, including the return of ambassadors and cancellation of Turkish legal proceedings in absentia against Israeli troops involved in the raid,[8] but this statement was later omitted.[7]

U.S. President Barack Obama, whose visit to Israel coincided with the development and who was credited with brokering the reconciliation, said that the U.S. "attached great importance to the restoration of positive relations between [Israel and Turkey] in order to advance regional peace and security."[7][8]

In August 2013, the Hürriyet reported that Erdoğan had stated to a meeting of the AKP's provincial chairs that Israel was responsible for the recent military coup in Egypt which overthrew Mohammad Morsi. Erdoğan reportedly stated "Who is behind this? Israel. We have evidence" - specifically, Erdoğan cited a video posted online of Tzipi Livni speaking with French intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy. Erdoğan claimed that Levy had stated:

However, according to the Hürriyet, what Levy actually stated was:

The Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman later stated that Erdoğan’s accusation was “a statement well worth not commenting on." Egypt's interim government rejected Erdoğan' claim, describing it as "baseless,” “very bewildering,” and charged that "Its purpose is to strike at the unity of Egyptians."[77][78][76][79][80]

With the scandal over alleged Turkish involvement in exposure of Israeli special agents in Iran in October 2013, the relations between Israel and Turkey have hit a new low.[81]

Economic relations[edit]

In 1996, Turkey and Israel signed a free-trade agreement. In 1997, a double-taxation prevention treaty went into effect. A bilateral investment treaty was signed in 1998.[82]

Israeli-Turkish trade rose 26% to $2 billion in first half of 2011 from $1.59 billion in the first half of 2010. According to the Israeli Chamber of Commerce, Israeli exports to Turkey rose 39% to $950 million, and imports from Turkey rose 16% to $1.05 billion.[83] Turkey is Israel's sixth-largest export destination. Chemicals and oil distillates are the primary exports.[84] Turkey purchases high-tech defense equipment from Israel, whereas Turkey supplies Israel with military boots and uniforms.[85] Israeli import of Turkish vegetable products has remained steady since 2007, and imports of prepared foodstuffs, beverages and tobacco doubled from 2007 to 2011.[82]

Military collaboration[edit]

Turkey-Israel naval collaboration, 2009: US Capt. John Moore, Turkish Rear Adm. Ismail Taylan, Israeli Rear Adm. Rom Rutberg
Annual U.S.-Turkish-Israeli training exercise, 2009

In 2007, Israel and Turkey discussed the sale of Israeli Ofeq satellites and Arrow missile air-defence systems to Turkey to upgrade Turkish military and intelligence capabilities.[22] Israeli defense companies have helped to modernize the F-4 Phantom fleet of the Turkish air force. Agreements have included air, sea, land and intelligence cooperation, manufacturing of aircraft, armaments and missiles, mutual military visits, training and exercises, dispatch of observers to oversee military exercises, staff exchanges and military know-how.[86]

  • Modernization of Turkey's F-4 Phantoms and F-5 aircraft – $900 million.
  • Upgrading 170 of Turkey's M60A1 tanks – $687 million.[87]
  • Popeye-I and Popeye-II missiles.
  • Popeye-II surface-to-air missiles – $150 million.
  • 10 Heron UAV - $183 million.[87]
  • Arrow anti-ballistic-missiles. (Agreed in principle by Israel; approval by the United States pending.)
  • The agreement provided exchange of pilots eight times a year; allowed Israeli pilots to practice "long range flying over mountainous land" in Turkey's Konya firing range; and permitted Turkish pilots to train at Israel's computerized firing range at the Nevatim airfield.[88]
  • The two navies conducted maneuvers during Operation Reliant Mermaid (the U.S. also participated) in January 1998.

In September 2011, military agreements between Turkey and Israel were suspended. Turkey has frozen 16 defense contracts worth billions of dollars since March 2010. Turkey suspended a 5 billion dollar deal for 1,000 Merkava Mk 3 tanks.[89] Turkey also dropped Israel Aerospace Industries Arrow-2 anti-ballistic missile system worth $2 billion from bidding. Now only U.S, European, and Chinese companies can bid.[87]

Tourism[edit]

Turkey was an important tourism destination for Israelis. Istanbul is a 90-minute flight from Tel Aviv. No visas are required for Israelis to visit Turkey, while Turkish citizens with ordinary passports need a visa prior to travelling Israel.[90][91] In 2008, before the 2008-09 Gaza War, 560,000 Israelis vacationed in Turkey, according to Israeli tourism officials. In October 2010 Israel's Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov encouraged Israelis to boycott Turkey as a vacation spot in response to Turkey's stance on Gaza.[92] The number of Israeli tourists in Turkey dropped to 300,000 in 2009 and to 110,000 in 2010; it declined further to about 62,000 between January and August 2011. According to Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Israelis' share of Turkey's total tourism declined from 3% to 0.05%. The number of Arab tourists in Turkey, by contrast, increased to about 1.4 million visitors in the first part of 2011, a jump from about 912,000 in the whole of 2009.[93] Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated in June 2012: "We do not need Israeli tourists. We have successfully filled their places".[94]

Still, tourism to Antalya rose by more than 20% from September 2010 to September 2011, and the number of Israeli visitors to Istanbul rose 13%, still well below previous peaks.[95]

Turkish Airlines dropped the number of weekly flights to Israel by about half in 2010.[96] In 2011, Turkish charter airlines began to cut back weekly flights on routes to and from Israel against the backdrop of the crisis in relations between the two counties and the decline in Israelis' Turkey holidays. It also emerged that El Al Israel Airlines had contingency plans that would address the possibility that Turkey would bar the Israeli carrier from overflying Turkish territory.[97]

Disaster relief[edit]

Turkish firefighting plane sent to aid Israel, 2010

After the 1999 Izmit earthquake, Israel assisted in search and rescue efforts and set up makeshift hospitals. The Israeli team included hundreds of personnel from the IDF SAR team, paramedics, surgeons and administrative personnel. The team was one of the largest international teams to assist in the catastrophe (which claimed more than 17,000 lives) and remained active for weeks.[98][99] One of the iconic images of the catastrophe was an "Israeli rescue dog with a red Star of David sniffing through debris in the devastated port city of Gölcük". [100]

During the Mount Carmel forest fire in 2010, Turkey was one of the first nations to send aid to Israel. Turkey sent two firefighting aircraft, which started to extinguish fire in the early hours of 3 December.[101]

Following the 2011 Van earthquake, Israel offered to provide prefabricated housing and tents in response to Turkish requests for foreign aid.[102] Israel airlifted mobile homes to the devastated region.[103]

Cultural ties[edit]

The Arkadaş Association was established in 2003 to preserve the heritage of Turkish Jews, promote the study of Ladino, and strengthen ties between Israel and Turkey.[104] The organization has over 4,000 members since its inception, about 40 volunteers to run its vast operations and its twelve branches throughout the country. Eyal Peretz, chairman of the association, told the Jerusalem Post that Jewish heritage trips to Turkey had stopped because of security concerns and dwindling demand. Peretz stated, "I've devoted most of my life as an adult to cultivate ties between the two people and I've seen how a warm relationship has been erased in one fell swoop. It's very painful, very frustrating."[105]

Regional realignments[edit]

Cyprus[edit]

See also: Cyprus dispute

Cyprus and Israel signed an accord demarcating their maritime borders to facilitate offshore gas exploration. Cypriot Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou and Israel's Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau signed the deal in Nicosia. The intent is to facilitate a search for mineral deposits in the east Mediterranean where huge natural gas reserves have been discovered. Turkish sources said that the Foreign Ministry had summoned Israel's Ambassador to Turkey, Gabby Levy, and expressed discontent over the agreement.[106] Israeli energy firm Delek Group is seeking to work with Cyprus on natural gas exploration and extraction where Delek is already active.[107]

According to Turkish media reports in September 2011, Israel Air Force fighter planes flew through the airspace of Cyprus after taking off to face a Turkish seismic research ship in the Eastern Mediterranean. The reports added that Turkey responded by launching two fighters to track the Israeli planes, at which point the Israeli fighter jets returned to Israeli airspace. The Turkish research vessel was seen as a Turkish provocation in the dispute over gas fields. The operation of Israeli planes in Cyprus airspace was interpreted as a further sign of close Israel-Cyprus ties and as a challenge to Turkey.[108] In May 2012, the Turkish Army command said its fighter jets chased an Israeli plane out of Turkish-occupied Cypriot airspace. In May 2012, Cyprus also denied a report that Israel planned to deploy 20,000 troops in Cyprus to protect Israelis working on energy projects.[109]

State of Palestine[edit]

Prior to the voting of the UN General Assembly Turkish Foreign Minister stated that it was time for Israel to look into the mirror. Shortly after the voting of the UN General Assembly Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu stated that Israel should question why it did not have the support by the majority of countries at the Palestine Vote in the UN General Assembly and declared that Palestine was now a state.[110][111] Palestinian National Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki and Turkish diplomats celebrated at the Türkevi, the Turkish Center in New York City.[112]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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