Recently, the Turkish parliament approved an agreement to normalize relations with Israel. Although delayed by the military coup on July 15, both countries signed a reconciliation agreement after a six year split. This agreement is significant in its potential to lead to regional stability.
Turkish-Israeli relations plummeted in 2010 after the Gaza flotilla raid. In the raid by Israeli naval commandos, nine Turkish nationals and one Turkish American bound for Gaza were killed (1). Many more Turkish activists and Israeli Defense Force soldiers were wounded. The raid of the activist ship was supposed to implement a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip; instead, it received international criticism and catalyzed the fallout between Israel and its greatest Muslim ally.
Formally signed by Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold and Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridum Sinirlioglu, the agreement stipulated that Israel pay Turkey $20 million in 25 days, on behalf of those individuals injured in the raid, and those grieving for their dead. However, in return, Turkey has to pass legislation that will protect Israeli soldiers and citizens from being liable for the raid (2). This includes both criminal and financial protection (3). Additionally, the legislature demands increased aid and Turkish investment in the Gaza strip. However, one of the major stumbling blocks for the deal revolved around Israeli security. Turkey requested that Israel’s blockade of Gaza be lifted, but Israel did not accept this stipulation, as it could potentially lead to Hamas receiving military cargo. However, beginning almost immediately, Turkey sent 10,000 tons of supplies, including toys, clothing, medicine and food, to Gaza via an Israeli controlled port (4).
Although the deal was approved by the Israeli Cabinet towards the end of June, it was not passed on to parliament due to the July 15 attempted coup by a Turkish military bloc. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was almost overthrown by a rebel military faction, but the coup failed. The effort was supported by a division of the Turkish Armed Forces that proclaimed themselves as the Peace at Home Council. They endeavored to seize control of Istanbul, Ankara, and other notable cities, but were ultimately defeated by forces loyal to the state. The uprising lasted little over 24 hours, yet it had a lasting impact on Turkey politically and militarily (5). When all was said and done, over 290 people died and thousands were injured.
Most importantly, the disastrous coup has resulted in mass arrests across the country. The Turkish government’s main priority is to purge all security, civilian, intelligence, and military agencies in the state from its enemies, both made-up and real. While President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to pursue retaliation for "a clear crime of treason" (6), this has instead resulted in a purge unmatched in Turkish history. According to CNN, approximately 35,022 Turkish people have already been detained as a result of the July coup. 5,685 of these people have yet to go before a judge and still remain in custody. In terms of arrests, over 17,740 people have been charged with specific crimes. Additionally, a third of Turkish military generals, 151 of them to be exact, have been arrested. This stands in stark contrast to the mere 1.5% of the army that participated in the coup on July 15. However, in terms of Israel, the Foreign Ministry of Israel expressed its support for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his administration. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, specified that a settlement between Turkey and Israel would not be hurt by the military coup.
The restoring of Turkish-Israeli relations has many potentially positive outcomes for economic health and physical security in both countries. Before the strained relationship between Turkey and Israel, both destinations were common tourist attractions. After the flotilla raid, Turkey saw a 90% decline in Israeli tourism and vice versa (7). Thus, Turkey’s tourism sector hopes to benefit from the diplomatic agreement with Israel. Additionally, Prime Minister Netanyahu has stressed the economic benefits of improving relations, citing the possibility of creating a Turkish pipeline to export natural gas. Talks over the pipeline have occurred, but previously the political discord between the countries was stinting development. This would be beneficial for both Turkey and Israel. Israel has discovered two profitable offshore fields in the Mediterranean called Leviathan and Tamar. Turkey imports all of its energy, but is looking away from importing expensive Russian gas; therefore, “The most feasible route for Israel to export its gas is Turkey,” according to an Israeli government official (8).
The two countries have also realized that they need to cooperate for their own national security, especially following the Syrian crisis. Both countries traditionally tend to have isolationist policies, with few allies in the region. Recently, each state has had problems with its immediate neighbors; this relationship repair is helping both states break out of their xenophobic tendencies.
Ultimately, the agreement between Turkey and Israel can conceivably produce a new regional dynamic that incorporates Turkey’s contemporary political situation. The deal to normalize relations showcases the new political balance in the Middle East and has the potential to have far-reaching implications in the future. There is even the possibility of an alliance between Turkey, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, in order to contain Iranian power and stabilize the Middle East. Without the recent deal between Turkey and Israel, this would have been inconceivable. Additionally, the United States has been pushing for reconciliation between Turkey and Israel for years. Now that the Turkey-Israel-U.S. trifecta is operating again, collaboration and cooperation in the Middle East is possible.
(1) AFP. "Turkey Submits Israel Deal to Parliament for Approval." The Times of Israel. The Times of Israel, 17 Aug. 2016. Web. 16 Sept. 2016.
(2) Reuters. "Turkey, Israel Sign Deal to Normalize Diplomatic Relations." NBC News. NBC News, 28 June 2016. Web. 16 Sept. 2016.
(3) AFP. "Turkish Parliament Approves Deal to Normalise Israel Ties." Al-Monitor. Al-Monitor, 20 Aug. 2016. Web. 16 Sept. 2016.
(4) Cunningham, Erin, and Ruth Eglash. "Israel and Turkey Announce Deal to Repair Relations after Six-year Split." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 27 June 2016. Web. 16 Sept. 2016.
(5) Tuysuz, Gul, and Eliott McLaughlin C. "Failed Coup in Turkey: What You Need to Know." CNN. Cable News Network, 18 July 2016. Web. 16 Sept. 2016.
(6) Said-Poorhouse, Lauren. "Turkey Arrests Post-coup: The Numbers." CNN. Cable News Network, 13 Aug. 2016. Web. 16 Sept. 2016.
(7) Rosenblum, Irit. "Turkey Sees 90% Decline in Israeli Tourism." Haaretz.com. Haaretz Daily Newspaper Ltd, 25 Aug. 2010. Web. 16 Sept. 2016.
(8) Reuters. "Turkey Seeks Israeli Gas, but Politics Are in the Way - Business." Haaretz.com. Haaretz Daily Newspaper Ltd, 03 Nov. 2013. Web. 16 Sept. 2016.
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