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Turkey, Russia, Israel

Turkey tries to manoeuvre out of diplomatic isolation

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

Turkey tries to get out of diplomatic isolation Turkey is trying to strengthen ties with neighbors after a period of increased regional isolation.

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Earlier this morning diplomatic ties between Ankara and Jerusalem were re-established after a six-year rift, with the exchange of ambassadors later this week.

At the same time Turkey apologized for the shooting down of a Russian warplane. Turkish president Recep Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin are scheduled to have a telephone conversation on Wednesday.

Turkey seems to feel its isolation. Not only it is in a constant quarrel with the EU over human rights and immigration, but also it is facing sanctions from Russia.

It also used to be one of the very few Muslim countries that had strong economic ties with Israel.

These last were cut off when a Turkish humanitarian organization by the name of IHH sent a flotilla of ships, headed by the Navi Marmara, to the Gaza Strip in May 2010.

Israeli commandos stormed the ship that was in breach of a naval blockade, and killed ten of the activists.

This resulted in an immediate deterioration of ties between Israel and Turkey.

But recently Israel offered and apology and a compensation worth over 18 million Euros.

“It is clear that both countries decided that strident relations were not useful and they decided to try to normalize the relations,” says professor Efraim Inbar, head of the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University.

"But this does not mean that we will see any time soon the type of intimacy that was seen between Ankara and Jerusalem in the '90s,” he adds. 

“The Erdogan regime is still hostile towards Israel, is still displaying Islamist orientation and is supporting terrorist organizations such as the one in Gaza, Hamas.”

Hamas for its part welcomed the deal expressing its "thanks and gratitude to Turkish President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan" in a statement on Monday.

The group also praised "official and popular Turkish efforts to help our people in Gaza and lighten the blockade" imposed by Israel.

“They welcomed the deal because the deal will allow Turkey to build some facilities in Gaza that would prop the Hamas regime,” says Inbar, adding that “the mere building of a hospital or a power station is not something that we are terribly concerned [about].

But it is quite clear that Turkey remains a supporter of Hamas, which is something we prefer not to see.”

But Turkey had to give in to one of its main demands: complete lifting of the naval blockade that shields Gaza off the rest of the world.

“The rapprochement agreement which is announced by Turkey means that blockade on Gaza is recognized by Turkey,” says IHH in a statement, calling the deal “ambiguous” and “unacceptable.”

IHH announces that they will “keep up [ ] efforts in all fronts including legal and physical arenas for the removal of the illegal and unjustifiable blockade on Gaza”

On IHH’s website another flotilla, the “Women’s Boat to Gaza” is said to set sail in September 2016.

But that action may not get as far as the Mavi Marmara.

“he first trip to Gaza was under the great tolerance and possibly by some support of the Turkish government,” says professor Iltar Turan of Bilgi University in Istanbul.

“This time, the IHH will probably not find a particularly favorably disposed leaning in the Turkish government, so their plans may not materialize as they had initially intended.”

But the diplomatic success of re-establishing ties between Turkey and Israel was an inspiration that may have triggered diplomats to look into the ties with Russia, that soured after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter in November last year.

Moscow then prevented Russian tourists from going to Turkey and made trade difficult.

Turkey apologized for this on Monday.

“I think there is a growing reaction in certain parts of the Turkish economy that this set of relations with Russia is inflicting major damage on the Turkish economy and may in the long run destroy the tourist economy of Turkey,” says Turan. 

“The atmosphere created by with the Israeli rapprochement which in many ways accommodated Turkey's expectations, would be important to tag on this Russian solution where essentially we had to be somewhat more accommodating to Russian expectations.” 

There were mixed reports of the Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim, saying Turkey may offer compensation for the downed plane, but then, today, retracting it. 

But he did apologize and with the upcoming telephone talks between Putin and Erdogan... and the exchange of ambassadors with Israel later this week, Turkey is working hard putting itself back on the regional map. 

 

 

 

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