Commentary: Israeli-Turkish Relations: Time Not Ripe for Reconciliation
By Eugene Kogan
We need to remember that the worsening of Israeli-Turkish relations did not began with the raid on the Mavi Marmara ship in the Mediterranean, which incident that occurred on 31 May 31, 2010, but back on 29 Jan. 29, 2009, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, with the then-Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's famous outburst: "You in Israel know very well how to kill people" namely, Palestinians.
Somehow that particular incident has become faded in history and every item published since about Israeli-Turkish relations published since then only mentions the Mavi Marmara incident as the one that led to the downgrading of diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey.
Since 31 May 31, 2010, Israeli foreign and security policy has undergone a sea change. Israel has improved its relations with Greece and Cyprus, strengthened relations with Bulgaria, Romania and Russia and, finally, has overcome strained relations with Egypt.
In the meantime, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece substituted Israel for Turkey as partners for the joint aerial and naval maneuvers. with Israel. Cyprus, with its Russian-built based S-300-based air-defense system, provides the Israeli Air Force with a possibility to learn about the system that Russia has finally agreed to deliver Iran.
Turkey, on the other hand, from its well-known policy of "zero problems with neighbors," has achieved an opposite result, namely, zero neighbors and thousands of problems, including the recent spat in relations with Russia. Therefore, Turkey found itself isolated and surrounded by not very friendly states such as Iran, Iraq and Syria.
This state of "precious loneliness" led President Erdogan to reassess Turkey’s relations with Israel. As a result, on 14 Dec. 14, 2015, President Erdogan said that "normalization with Israel" was possible. Erdogan said all it took to thaw the relations was for the two sides to finalize a compensation deal for the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla raid’s victims and for Israel to lift its air and naval blockade over the Gaza Strip.
It is important to emphasize that the air and naval blockade over the Gaza Strip is also supported by Egypt, a country with which Turkey has strained relations.
What President Erdogan has forgotten about or perhaps is unwilling to admit is that the overall situation in the eastern Mediterranean has changed in favor of Israel which, that, as a matter of fact, has more to lose than to gain (see above) if and when it decides to improve relations with Turkey. Therefore, President Erdogan’s condition to lift the air and naval blockade over the Gaza Strip was and remains the stumbling block in mending Israeli-Turkish relations.
And this time around the lifting of the blockade affects not just Israel but also Egypt. Whether or not a trilateral summit can solve the problem of the Gaza Strip remains to be seen. What is evident is that such process needs time and a tremendous effort from all three sides involved that do not see the Palestinian issue eye-to-eye.
Furthermore, improvement of Israeli-Turkish relations may have negative effects on Russian-Israeli relations, which have substantially improved over the last 15 years. President Vladimir Putin sees Israel's effort to improve relations with Turkey as a stab in his back.
Finally, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's very strained relations with US President Barack Obama, Israel has maintained a neutral stand versus difficult US-Russia relations over Ukraine and Syria. As a result, Israel kept a friendly balance with both countries.
To conclude, in this very tumultuous world Israeli-Turkish relations are unlikely to improve and regain their strength as they were before the Davos incident. The overall situation has changed in favor of Israel, while Turkey faces an uncertainty around and anxiety at home.
Furthermore, perception of the two countries' politicians differs substantially and the good wishes alone are is not sufficient enough to bring the two countries closer. Therefore, the time to shake hands and start a new page has not yet come.
Eugene Kogan is a defense and security expert affiliated to the Tbilisi-based Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies.