ANALYSIS: Turkey’s Rift With Israel Nears End

YERUSHALAYIM -
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, File)
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, File)

The Turks have given in during the past twenty-four hours. Not to the Russians, in the meantime, but to the Israelis.

The widely publicized tripartite meetings of Israel, Greece and Cyprus, which was also covered here, last week, did their work — Turkey and Israel will exchange ambassadors, a sign of mutual willingness to resolve all the remaining problems.

Israel and Turkey may already be on the path to renewal of bilateral relations. Representatives of the two sides met secretly Wednesday night for six hours in a Swiss villa, where everything was put on the table, all the issues, on the understanding that they would not get up from the table until all the problems were ironed out.

The meeting did not reach its conclusion until early Thursday morning. On the Turkish side the foreign minister, his director general, delegates from the Turkish “Mossad”; on the Israeli side outgoing Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, his successor (next month) Yossi Cohen, and Israeli envoy Joseph Ciechanover, who has worked with the Turks during these difficult years and laid the groundwork for this week’s breakthrough.

During the meeting it became clear that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan had authorized the Turkish delegation to undertake commitments to Israel to expel the head of the Hamas group in Ankara, Salah Al-Arouri, who is responsible for a significant number of recent terror attacks in Israel. The demand to remove him was at the head of the list of Israeli demands in order for reconciliation to proceed.

On the other hand, Israel adopted the Turkish demand for full compensation for the victims of the Mavi Marmari, the vessel which attempted to break through the blockade of Gaza in 2010. But Israel refused to accept responsibility for the incident, nor to pay an unreasonable amount of compensation. In order to resolve the issue, however, Israel said it was willing to establish an outside fund that would pay out the compensation, without Israel taking responsibility for implementation.

As a concrete first step of renewal of relations, the two sides have agreed that their ambassadors will return to Ankara and Tel Aviv as soon as possible, thereby restoring diplomatic relations to their former status.

However, in Yerushalayim, officials do not yet see a final resolution to the crisis and a return to normalcy, as long as the Turks do not renounce their legal claims against former IDF commanders.

In the second half of the overnight meeting, the negotiators also discussed economic matters, such as the opening of intensive talks for the sale of Israeli natural gas to Turkey through a pipeline that the Turks would lay down in the eastern Mediterranean.

The Turks also raised the question of the return of Israeli tourists to their country, as well as other subjects, which it was agreed would be discussed at a meeting in the near future.