Anyone following Turkish-Israeli relations over the past decades knows that the reconciliation in June 2016 was long overdue, especially given the two countries’ previously close economic and military ties.
Relations began to falter under Turkey’s Islamist Prime Minister (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but became particularly strained in 2010 after an Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara aid ship to Gaza left nine Turkish activists dead. In September 2011, after the issue remained unresolved, Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador in Ankara. Relations deteriorated further during the Israel-Gaza conflict of 2014, when Turkey openly criticized Israel’s actions in the Strip.
Despite these tensions, trade between the two countries increased to $5.6 billion in 2015 , a sign that both sides were willing to insulate economic interests from political ones. The reconciliation marked the culmination of years of informal talks and efforts by EU and US officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama.
But why this agreement and why now, especially given the Israeli public’s opposition to it? Both countries share growing security concerns, and both stand to benefit from economic and energy deals. Israel hopes to be a supplier of natural gas to Turkey in the near future. Although a pipeline or terminal to transport the gas still needs to be built, energy diplomacy has nevertheless played a crucial role in facilitating the reconciliation.
Under the terms of the agreement, Israel will pay Turkey $20 million in compensation for the victims of the Mavi Marmara incident, but it will not lift the naval blockade on Gaza.
Turkey, meanwhile, will pass legislation ensuring that members of the Israeli military forces are not subject to international legal action in connection with the incident. It has also promised to limit Hamas’s activities on Turkish soil to strictly political ones, and will ship aid to Gaza through the southern Israeli port of Ashdod, rather than unilaterally as it had initially demanded.
Turkish support to solve Gaza’s water and power shortages along with lucrative infrastructure, housing and medical projects will help the Hamas regime stay in power. Through Turkey, Israel will gain a channel of mediation with Hamas. Israel prefers Hamas rule rather than anarchy as long as Hamas remains contained. The Israeli government is also keen to maintain the political split between Hamas in Gaza and President Abbas’ Fatah in the West Bank, since a unified Palestinian government promoting the Palestinian cause abroad would put extra pressure on Tel Aviv.
For Turkey, reconciliation with Israel comes not just as the region is unravelling, but also as Ankara’s ties with other allies, notably Russia, have frayed. For Israel, mending the rift with Turkey has gained urgency as the Syrian crisis continues to worsen; since Turkey shares a border with Syria, closer ties between Israel and Turkey could help minimize the fallout from the civil war. But above all, the reconciliation is likely to have positive economic implications for both countries, providing a non-controversial platform for further contact in the coming years.