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Turkey's economic interests key motive in restoring ties with Israel

Mavi Marmara seen in the background of the Israeli warship on 31 May, 2010
Mavi Marmara seen in the background of the Israeli warship on 31 May, 2010 Reuters/Amir Cohen

The Turkish foreign ministry announced on Friday that Israel and Turkey were on the brink of restoring relations, following a fresh round of talks between political leaders the day before. NATO member Turkey was a key regional ally of Israel until the two countries fell out in 2010.


Analysis of Israeli-Turkish relations

Ties between Israel and Turkey broke down after the Israeli navy raided a flotilla trying to break Israel's blockade of Gaza in 2010. Ten Turkish activists were killed in the raid.

Turkey has already received an apology from Israel for the Mavi Marmara incident, and talks have advanced on the subject of compensation for the victims.

“The basic motive behind this agreement between Turkey and Israel is very clear," said Gökhan Bacık, an associate professor of international relations at Ipek University in Ankara, Turkey.

"Turkey desperately needs Israel for two purposes. One is to break the regional isolation. The second is to ameliorate its very negative perception in the West, particularly in the US."

Some analysts suggest that a worsening of relations with Moscow has increased Turkey's desire for a rapprochement with Israel.

“Turkey has always been pursuing a policy of becoming a gas hub," gas security expert Murad Gassanly told RFI.

Ankara relies on Russia for more than half its natural gas imports and Turkey now has its eyes on Israeli gas reserves.

"What Turkey wants is for all the different gas pipelines and gas suppliers and oil suppliers to put their pipelines through its territory," Gassanly says. "It’s a transit country. But for domestic purposes, it imports most of its gas from Russia."

Russia's President Vladimir Putin condemned Turkey's shooting down of a Russian warplane on its border with Syria in November last year.

"With a deterioration in its relationship with Russia, there’s now increased incentive to find alternatives sources of gas: Azerbaijan, Israel, Cyprus, hence the improvement in relationships with Greece," Gassanly says.

"Turkey is desperate to find additional sources of gas which are not Russian. Turkey sees its international role as a hub for European gas.”

Israeli-Turkish relations were formalised in March 1949 when Turkey became the first Muslim majority country to recognise the State of Israel.

"Turkey has been an important ally to Israel in the past," says Oded Eram, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies based in Israel. Eram also served as Israel's ambassador to the European Union from 2002 to 2007.

"We have had strong economic and military relations. Even after AKP [Turkey's Justice and Development Party] came to power in 2002, this continued - certainly until 2008 and 2009 - and then it all came to an end in 2010 because of the famous events in May 2010.

“Turkey is an important neighbour in a very volatile region," Eram told RFI. "Israel and Turkey are trying to limit the number of conflicts in which they are involved. Both countries, certainly Israel, would like to improve the relations and reduce the tensions, which could lead to a difficult situation in this part of the world.”

In the Turkish newspaper Vatan published on Friday, the Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, is quoted as saying that Israel and Turkey were hoping to reach "a final stage" in the talks soon.

“I’m a bit skeptical as to whether the agreement will work in the long term," Gökhan Bacık told RFI. "It may be useful in the short term, but I’m skeptical given that both sides are keeping their strict ideological differences to each other.”

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