Restoration of Turkey-Israel relations: Ankara “had to adjust its geopolitical currency”

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Israel and Turkey announced on Wednesday a full resumption of diplomatic relations after more than a decade. Energy cooperation, economic difficulties in Turkey, dynamism of the normalization of relations between the Jewish state and its neighbors… There are many issues at stake in this global warming, Particularly for Ankara, which is now seeking a “less conflictive” geopolitical situation. maintenance.

After more than ten years of “cold”, Israel and Turkey announced Wednesday August 17 the full resumption of their relations as well as the return of their ambassadors and general consuls in the two countries. Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid explained in a statement the “decision to raise the level of ties (with Ankara) to full diplomatic relations”, specifying that the recovery was “a key to regional stability and a new economy. very important”. important asset.

However, the two countries had been navigating choppy waters for many years. In 2010, Israeli forces carried out a deadly attack on the Turkish ship “Mavi Marmara”, which was trying to come to the aid of a Palestinian enclave in Gaza under Israeli blockade and controlled by Islamists from Hamas – who had access to Turkey. There are representatives elsewhere.

Then, in May 2018, after nearly fifty Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in Gaza, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel and fired Israel’s ambassador. The Jewish state retaliated by sending the Turkish consul general back to Jerusalem.

So how to explain that the two countries are getting closer again? why now? Decryption by David Rigoulet-Rose, researcher specializing in the Middle East, associate researcher at the French Institute for Strategic Analysis (IFAS), Institute for International and Strategic Relations (Iris) and editor-in-chief of the Orientes Strategic Journal.

FRANCE 24: Why Israel and Turkey are now restoring diplomatic relations after more than ten years of “cold” ,

David Rigoulet-Rose: It should be noted that today it is on the initiative of Ankara that reconciliation is taking place, whereas before that the Jewish state was active in this file. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has understood that he should adjust his geopolitical posture by making it less confrontational, even less aggressive – which has been largely counterproductive in recent years.

It finalizes the process initiated several months ago. In late November 2021, President Erdogan spoke with then-Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for the first time since 2013. Then there was President Isaac Herzog’s visit to Ankara last March, the first such visit since 2007. On May 25, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also visited Israel. Then, in June, relations between Israel and the Turkish intelligence services were strengthened, thanks to the revelation of terrorist threats emanating from Iran and targeting Israeli tourists in Turkey. Then-Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid also thanked Ankara for this.

There are indeed explanatory factors on the Turkish side of this important development. President Erdogan is facing increased internal difficulties which are pushing him to adopt a less confrontational attitude with his neighbours: the legislative and presidential elections of June 2023 promise to be much less easy for him than before, and the economic situation in Turkey is not is no stranger to it. declining popularity of the president and his party, the AKP.

High inflation (79.6% in July, editor’s note) is logically attributable to the government in place – the policy of the AKP has been considered a model of economic growth for decades – to overcome it by maximizing foreign investment. Forced to attract. these economic difficulties.

Thus the resumption of contact with the Emirati Mohamed Ben Zayed, even the Saudi Mohammed Ben Salman, is contradictory in many respects, yet condemned to public humiliation following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It is therefore a 180 degree turn for Ankara as the only “political beast” of which Recep Tayyip Erdogan is capable – which cares little for the stability of its starting line. The fact remains that economic constraints are forcing it to revise downwards its external geopolitical ambitions.

Is this resumption of ties part of a more global approach for Israel to normalize relations with several neighboring countries? ,

It’s undeniable, it’s the same dynamic. Except that it is not an Arab country linked to the Abrahamic agreement and that the dispute on the Palestinian question – and in particular on Gaza – has remained with Ankara since the “Mavi Marmara” affair in 2010 Restoring relations with Turkey broadens the spectrum of normalization for Israel. Especially since it is about the Iranian question and we have seen the importance that close ties with Ankara can provide to the many Israeli tourists visiting Turkey.

This makes it possible to distance Turkey from Iran, with two stakeholders, Russia, in the Astana format (set of tripartite meetings between different actors in the war in Syria, editor’s note). Ankara has its own agenda and Israel, for its part, is fundamentally concerned about the Iranian presence in Syria. On this issue, the Jewish state may be interested in moving closer to Turkey to further distance it from Tehran – especially since Iran has recently disrupted Ankara, which wants military intervention against the Kurds in northern Iran. Syria. has been.

What are the common interests of the two countries regarding potential energy cooperation? ,

The issue of gas in the Mediterranean has been a major contentious issue since the agreement that Turkey signed with Libya on November 27, 2019, on maritime delimitation granting it access to the drilling fields claimed by Greece and/or Cyprus. supported by Israel.

However, since January 2022, Israel and Turkey have declared themselves ready to cooperate on a gas pipeline project aimed at connecting Israeli fields in the eastern Mediterranean to Turkey, to transport this gas windfall to Europe. in which there is more than ever. Necessary since the disruption of the Russian gas supply.

In this restoration of Israeli-Turkish relations, it is also believed that there is potential for cooperative development.

Finally, what about the persistent differences of opinion on the Palestinian question? ,

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu cannot deny the ambition Ankara has shown over the years to support the Palestinian cause. He clearly reiterated this on Wednesday, assuring that Turkey “will not abandon the Palestinian cause” and will continue to “protect the rights of the Palestinians, of Jerusalem and of Gaza”.

The Turkish-Qatari axis will therefore remain important in relation to the Palestinian question, and it is a point of friction which will remain with Israel. But that will not be enough to jeopardize the resumption of diplomatic relations. In the future, Ankara will probably express its disapproval or even its condemnation of Israel’s policy towards Gaza, as it is an integral part of Turkey’s traditional position.

But there is a general dynamism on the part of Ankara which obliges it to revise its external ambitions downwards, these geopolitical ambitions having to be financed. which is not today. And as Turkey plunges into a severe economic crisis, it has become a domestic political issue for President Erdogan for the first time.

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