Turkish-Israeli rapprochement: Dream or reality?
Relations between Turkey and Israel are very old. Sultan Bayazid II, the ruler of the Ottoman Empire welcomed Jewish refugees to the Middle East. His initiative helped the Jews to survive in a very difficult time. For this reason, the Jews were loyal to the Ottoman Empire.
As a Muslim-majority country Turkey recognized Israel for the first time in 1949 after the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel in cooperation with the West. Since then military, strategic, and diplomatic relations between the two countries have deepened. The strategic partnership between the two countries has played an important role in changing the politics of the Middle East and relations between the two countries have been growing rapidly in the areas of trade and tourism.
As the Israeli Air Force began training exercises in Turkish airspace, Israeli technicians began cooperating in the modernization of Turkish warplanes. The two countries agreed on a high-tech exchange and water-sharing plan. They expressed hope that Israel would play a role in ending the conflict in Palestine.
But over the past decade, relations between the two countries have been deteriorating. Israel's relations with Turkey have deteriorated sharply since the Israeli aggression on Gaza from 2008 to 2009 and the attack on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on May 31, 2010, during which 9 people were killed.
Israel apologized to Turkey in 2013 for the incident. This paved the way for normalisation of relations between the two countries. But tensions between the two countries erupted when Turkey revealed that Israel was conducting Israeli intelligence activities in Iran. They then held a secret meeting in 2015 to establish diplomatic relations, and in June 2016, Turkey and Israel signed an agreement to normalise relations.
When the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017, the Palestinian people began to protest strongly against it. Israeli forces fired indiscriminately to quell protests, killing 60 Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was outraged by the incident and threatened to sever diplomatic ties with Israel. He slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling Israel a racist country.
In 2018, the Israeli ambassador was expelled from Turkey. In retaliation, Israel expelled the Turkish Consul General from Jerusalem. These incidents have severely damaged the relations between the two countries and have affected the trade relations between the two countries. Israel even suspended talks on a Turkish-Israeli gas pipeline project in 2016, aimed at supplying gas to Europe, and began using various tactics to improve relations with Turkey's enemies Greece and Greek Cyprus.
On the other hand, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain announced the establishment of relations with Israel. In this, Turkey sat motionless. In the rapidly changing geopolitical situation in the Middle East, President Erdogan hinted at developing relations with Israel, but at the same time said that it was not possible for them to adopt Israel's policy of aggression against the Palestinians. Israel's brutal treatment of Palestinians was unacceptable.
Turkey's rise as a regional power in Middle East geopolitics is now being acknowledged by all countries in the region. From Syria to Libya to Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, Turkey's military prowess has already been seen. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to establish himself as a major leader in the Muslim world. He wants to present himself as a victorious ruler and leader just like his predecessors.
But Turkey's longstanding relationship with Israel is a major obstacle as many Muslim countries do not like Turkey's close relations with Israel. This is because of the brutal torture and indiscriminate killings by the occupying Israeli forces on the Palestinians.
The UAE considers Turkey as its main rival in the region. The Gulf Cooperation Council's dispute with Qatar over the dispute with other countries began earlier this month. Qatar has won. In this case, Qatar's close relations with Turkey have served as a major regulator. Saudi Arabia and its allies have not been able to overcome the three-and-a-half-year blockade imposed on Qatar.
They had to negotiate with the Qatari government for no apparent reason. This is also a big defeat for Saudi Arabia and the UAE and that is why the UAE is also trying to avenge it by cornering Turkey.
Recently, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan announced the establishment of formal relations with Israel. They now want to build closer ties with Israel to deter Turkey. In Libya, the UAE is backing the UN-backed government, while the UAE is also supporting the rebel General Haftar's forces there. In short, where Turkey is going, the UAE is also emerging as its opponent.
Giorgio Cafiro, CEO of Gulf State Analytics, a Washington-based think tank, said the UAE's goal in establishing a formal relationship with Israel was to block Turkey because the UAE sees Turkey as a big threat. That is why the country wants to build ties with Israel and form an alliance with anti-Turkish countries in the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean, but the UAE is well aware that this will not be an easy task.
Given the UAE's activities and the current geopolitical situation, Erdogan, as a pragmatic leader has quickly redefined his country's position on Israel. Moving away from publicly harsh criticism of Israel, he has now taken steps to normalise relations with the country and hinted at developing relations with Israel and Turkey. Israel has already appointed a new ambassador to Turkey.
Turkey and Israel began talks in 2016 to build a pipeline to supply gas to Europe via the Eastern Mediterranean gas pipeline. But due to the deteriorating relations between the two countries, talks on the project did not move forward. Instead, a gas supply forum called the Ismet Pipeline was formed in 2019 at the initiative of Israel, and the pipeline has had a major impact on the region's international relations.
Israel, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Greece, Greek Cyprus administration and Italy are members of the Ismet Forum. The forum was formed to exclude Turkey due to the deteriorating relations with Israel. In addition, the United Arab Emirates was given observer status on the recommendation of Israel. Israel also renewed its gas supply agreements with Turkey's enemies Greece and Greek Cyprus last July.
Turkey is under some pressure. Turkey thinks the forum was set up to deprive Turkey of its gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean. This situation also forces Turkey to turn to Israel. Now Turkey says that if the gas pipeline construction project is implemented according to the plan taken in 2016, it will be able to supply gas to Europe quickly and at low cost, but Israeli experts do not think that Israel will respond.
On the other hand, experts believe that Turkey will not deviate from its policy in the region. Masoud Kazin, a professor of international law at Istanbul's Yatit University, said Turkey did not appear to be making any changes to its current policy in the eastern Mediterranean. In light of the terms of international law and maritime law, Turkey will make full use of its right to explore for gas in its waters there. As a result, the distance between Israel and Turkey will remain.
Md Tareq Hasan is a Student of Rajshahi University