Report: Tangible Improvement in Israel-Turkey Relations Since Lieberman’s Departure From Foreign Ministry
Relations between Turkey and Israel have seen a marked improvement since the formation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government and his assumption of the Foreign Ministry portfolio, the independent Lebanese paper An-Nahar reported on Tuesday.
The report claims that while former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman took a hard-line stance towards Turkey, since his departure from the post and Netanyahu’s assumption of it, a gradual, but noticeable, improvement in relations between the two countries has taken place, particularly in the economic and military realms.
According to the report, Israeli analysts have speculated that this improvement can be traced directly to Lieberman’s exit from the Foreign Ministry.
In the economic sphere, there are talks between the two countries over potential areas of cooperation between Turkey and Israel, particularly with regard to possibility of Turkey’s importing natural gas from Israel.
Israeli news sources have reported on the visit to Israel by a Turkish energy expert, to facilitate the signing of contracts for the exportation of Israeli gas to Turkey. The expert noted that his country is prepared to pay a higher price for the gas than Israeli, Egyptian or European markets would pay.
Turkey currently imports gas from Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia, but is now exploring the possibility of building an underwater pipeline to transfer gas from Israel to Turkey.
Militarily, the two countries have also experienced a renewed warming of ties, with Israel exporting military goods to Turkey, such as an advanced defense technology that Israel is normally hesitant to sell to Middle Eastern countries, lest it fall into the hands of enemies.
Historically, Turkey and Israel have had good, close relations, with Turkey being the second Islamic country, after Iran, to recognize Israel’s independence and to establish diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.
The relationship has included close military and intelligence cooperation, as well as economic ties and tourism, with Israelis traditionally flocking to nearby Turkey for vacations.
The relationship began to sour with the rise to power of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party.
The actual severing of relations occurred in 2010, when a “Free Gaza” flotilla from Turkey tried to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The ships were carrying Turkish passengers affiliated with the IHH, a Turkish NGO suspected of having extremist Islamist leanings.
On one of the ships, the Mavi Marmara, there was an incident that changed the course of Israel-Turkey relations. When Israeli commandos requested that it reverse course and dock at the Israeli port of Ashdod, they were ignored. Subsequently, the commandos boarded the ship, and were violently attacked by armed passengers.
When the Israeli seamen, armed primarily with paint-ball guns, responded to the attack with force, nine of the passengers were killed.
Turkey immediately demanded an official apology from Israel and compensation for the families of those killed. Israel initially refused, only to relent in March of 2013, under pressure from U.S. President Barack Obama.