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Is Turkey’s Erdoğan Heading to Israel?

September 20, 2022

by: Janet Aslin

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President Isaac Herzog with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during his state visit to Turkey in March 2022,

Tuesday, 20 September 2022 | While addressing the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in New York yesterday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced his plans to visit Israel.

Even though Erdoğan declined to give a specific date for the proposed visit, his public statement is one of the clearest signs so far that relations between Turkey and Israel are on the mend.

Erdoğan is in the United States for the UN General Assembly meetings that are taking place this week. He also plans to meet with Israel’s Prime Minister Lapid, possibly today, in the first face-to-face meeting between leaders of the two countries since 2008.

How did we arrive at this point and what are the ramifications of the potential visit?

Turkey was the first Muslim-majority nation to recognize the State of Israel in March 1949. For nearly 60 years, the relations were very cordial and the two countries cooperated fully. Things began to fall apart during the three-week Gaza War, also known as Operation Cast Lead, in 2008–2009.

In 2010, relations were completely severed after the incident of the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship that attempted to breach Israel’s blockade of the Gaza coastline. During the ensuing 12 years, there were attempts to mend the broken relationship, and for the period between 2016–2018, diplomatic ties were resumed. This ended when Turkey withdrew its ambassador and expelled Israel’s over Hamas-led riots along the Gaza border.

In a series of events that began last November, the two countries have been taking increasingly firm steps toward normalization of relations. Oddly enough, they began with the detention of an Israeli couple who were arrested for espionage after they inadvertently took a picture of Erdoğan’s palace in Istanbul.

Behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts on the part of both Israel and Turkey led to the couple’s release about week after their detention. After successful conclusion of this incident, Erdoğan hinted that the time had come for the warming of relations.

The first official visit between the countries took place in early March when Israel’s President Isaac Herzog visited Ankara. In May, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu came to Israel—the first visit by a Turkish foreign minister in 15 years.

August saw the complete normalization of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel as well as Israel’s re-opening of its economic office in Turkey.

Why are these events significant and what does each country hope to gain?

In the complex world that is the Middle East, both Turkey and Israel benefit from the restoral of their relationship. Strategically located in this very volatile region, Turkey shares its southern border with Syria, Iran and Iraq. Facing increasing Russian pressure in the region, President Erdoğan may be looking to strengthen his own hand through an alliance with Israel, a definite military force to be reckoned with.

Turkey is also interested in the economic benefit from energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean. Currently Israel and Greece, with whom Turkey has difficult relations, are leading these efforts. Cordial relations with Israel could be the key to unlock economic cooperation.

Israel, for its part, is seeking to expand the 2020 Abraham Accords and bring additional Arab and Muslim-majority nations into the fold. In another benefit, because Turkey has a direct relationship with Hamas, it could join Egypt in acting as an intermediary between Israel and the Gazan terror group when the need arises.

Throughout the last year, Turkey has made it clear that they are not abandoning the Palestinian cause even as they make ever-friendlier overtures to Israel. It is a “proceed with caution” relationship, but the signs are hopeful for increasing stability between Israel and Turkey.

Posted on September 20, 2022

Source: (Bridges for Peace, September 16, 2022)

Photo Credit: Haim Zach/Government Press Office/commons.wikimedia.org

Photo License: Wikimedia

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