Four hours before Turkish diplomats were slated to meet with representatives of the European Union for further discussion of Turkey’s entry into the EU, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan decided it was the right time to tell reporters of the urgency of better relations with Israel, saying the entire region would have much to gain from normalized ties.
The Turkish leader has read the map well. He understands that his country faces a dilemma. With the Europeans, with the Russians, with the Americans, all those it had friendly relations with before Erdogan came to power.
Israel, for example. Before bilateral relations deteriorated, Israeli diplomats had been instructed to present in talks with the Americans not only Israel’s own requests, but also those of Turkey.
In fact, that alliance benefited Turkey more than Israel. Turkey also hosted three-quarters of a million Israeli tourists annually. Business with Israel flourished. When natural gas fields began to be discovered in the Mediterranean, Israel and Turkey made significant progress toward joint development, a major boon for both economies.
All that changed after Erdogan came to power, distanced Turkey from Israel, and drew closer to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinians. The Mavi Marara incident, in which 9 Turks were killed trying to run the Israeli blockade of Gaza, led to a diplomatic rift that exists to the present day.
Slowly, Ankara has come to realize that the severing of relations with Israel has gained nothing. It has only lost, economically, militarily, diplomatically, strategically.
So, very quietly, the Turks have begun to repair the situation, and business ties are renewing. Even the Turkish military has resumed purchasing no small amount of military equipment from Israeli makers.
All that remains is for Turkey to make the improved relations public. But Erdogan is no Sadat, and no dramatic gestures of friendship have been made. Even in secret talks, Turkey has made demands on Israel which have impeded a resolution to the Mavi Marmara claims.
The renewal of talks with the EU cannot go forward unless there is a change in Turkey’s belligerent behavior, toward Russia, Israel and others. Thus, Erdogan has signaled that he seeks a warming of relations with Israel.
At the same time, however, he has reiterated Turkey’s conditions – a formal apology for the Mavi Marara incident, lifting the Gaza blockade, and so on – demands which will only prevent reconciliation.
Meanwhile, Israel has been forging ties with Greece and Cyprus, old enemies of Turkey, which Turkey has been watching anxiously.
In spite of everything, Israel’s door remains open for a positive change. But only at a reasonable price, not total capitulation to every Turkish demand. Turkey will also have to pay something for improved relations, such as bringing a halt to hosting senior Hamas officials who have a hand in the current wave of terror, and an end of threats of prosecution of formal IDF commanders.
Otherwise, there will be no change. Not until Erdogan comes to the conclusion that his country is suffering more than Israel from the rift. And if not, then we will just have to wait until Erdogan eventually passes from the scene. When that happens, things will begin to look different.