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Turkey and Israel - Old Enemies and Secretly New Friends ?

10 March 2013

Relations between Turkey and Israel are definitely set to improve over the coming months. In the 1990s the relationship was warm, despite the obvious differences in ideology, as the secular state philosophy of the Kemal Ataturk legacy in Turkey prompted a pragmatism in foreign relations. Under the AKP government in Turkey, headed by President Abdullah Gul, and the Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, this secular pragmatism has been replaced by the repositioning of Turkey as a leader of the muslim world. So the old friends became new enemies.

Rumours of secret talk between the two countries have been rife for some time. The delicacy in the relationship is the unresolved matter of the Israeli riad against the Turkish aid flotilla, the Mavi Marmara, which was intercepted en route to Gaza in 2010. The attack resulted in the death of nine Turks.

Turkey has made three demands. First, an apology for the attack: second, compensation to the victims' families: thirdly, that Israel should lift the siege of Gaza. It now appears agreement has been reached on the first two items, and that the third demand has been dropped.

In return, Turkey will re-establish full relations and lift its veto against Israeli participation in NATO activities

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The Israeli government has approved the delivery of electronic support measures equipment to be installed on the Turkish air force's new Boeing 737 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system aircraft, despite the ongoing severance of defence ties between the nations.

According to Turkish sources, the decision to transfer this equipment manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries' Elta Systems subsidiary was taken as a result of heavy pressure from the US administration and Boeing .

In other news which appears to be out of step with the present state of Turkish-Israel ties, the influential Israeli daily Haaretz reported recently that the Zorlu Group, a major Turkish conglomerate which also owns a 25% stake in the Israeli Dorad Energy company, is lobbying Israel to approve an ambitious plan to lay an undersea pipeline from Israel's port of Haifa to Turkey's southern coast.


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The pipeline being proposed will be 600 km [373 miles] long, cost an estimated $2 billion, and will carry gas from Israel's Leviathan gas field, 130 kilometers off the coast of Haifa, to Turkey. Haaretz said that the project has been explored by Zorlu and Dorad Energy for two years, but this proposal was rejected by Israel because of the antagonistic state of relations between the two countries .

It seems. however, that other options for Israel, including a pipeline to Greece or Egypt, have become less attractive due to the turmoil in Egypt and the economic crisis in Greece, while the option of transporting Israeli gas by tanker has been discarded due to cost considerations


Based on this evidence, it would appear that the old enemies are becoming new friends. This is despite the public utterances of Erdogan and Abdullah Gul to the contrary. However, in November 2012, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was in Gaza on a solidarity visit, along with an Arab League delegation. In a strange contrast with the spirit of his mission, however, Davutoglu suggested to reporters that back-channel discussions had been opened with Israeli authorities.

The balancing act that Abdullah Gul and Recep Erdogan need to maintain is no easy feat. There is significant popular support in Turkey for the plight of the Palestinians, and the AKP have capitalised on this.

Turkey's successful application for Patriot missiles from NATO, and the growing unease with the conflict in Syria, has served to remind Turkey of its longstanding ties with the US and the west.

Turkey may be able to regain its previous role as the main muslim state that can intercede with Israel, secretly as friends, but there is competition from Egypt in the unlikely form of the Muslim Brotherhood.


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Copyright - Leslie Hardy, 10 March 2013

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