Israel and Turkey have reached a reconciliation agreement aimed at normalizing ties after six years of strained relations.
“The Middle East is in turmoil. My policy is to create islands of stability with our close neighbors,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a Monday press conference in Rome, the Times of Israel reported. “This agreement is good for both sides.”
Relations between Israel and Turkey devolved after the IDF’s 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara. The ship, which was under the control of the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation—a group designated as a terror organization by the Netherlands and Germany—was part of a flotilla attempting to break Israel’s legal naval blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. IDF troops faced an “organized and violent” assault from a group of passengers after boarding the ship, according to a UN report and video footage. Ten crew members were killed in the ensuing fight, and several Israeli soldiers were injured. The other ships in the flotilla were diverted without incident.
As part of the agreement, Israel will pay $20 million in compensation to the bereaved and injured, and in return Turkey will pass legislation banning legal proceedings against the Israeli soldiers in its courts. Turkey also dropped a demand for Israel to lift the blockade on Gaza, and will only be permitted to send aid to the territory after it passes security checks at Israel’s Ashdod port. (Gaza-bound aid shipment are already unloaded at Ashdod nearly every day.) Ankara will also be allowed to build a hospital as well as a power and desalinization plant in Gaza.
In addressing these terms, Netanyahu stressed that the deal will secure the “continuation of the maritime security blockade off the Gaza Strip coast.”
“This is a supreme security interest for us. I was not prepared to compromise on it,” Netanyahu continued.
Turkey in return has committed to thwart the plotting and financing of Hamas terrorist acts against Israel from its soil. It will also not stand in the way of Israeli involvement in international forums to which it belongs, mostly notably NATO.
Jerusalem and Ankara will also restore full diplomatic relations, appointing ambassadors and lifting restrictions on military and intelligence cooperation. Netanyahu added that the deal will open Turkey to Israeli natural gas exports, and that the country could possibly serve as a gateway to European markets. “[The deal has] immense implications for the Israeli economy, and I use that word advisedly,” the prime minister told reporters.
While not a formal part of the deal, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also personally pledged in a letter to help return the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed during the 2014 Gaza war, which are thought to be held by Hamas, and free two Israelis reportedly being held by the terrorist group. One of the captives is an Ethiopian Jew — described as mentally-ill by his family — who wandered into Gaza accidentally in 2014; the second man, a resident of a Bedouin town in Israel’s Negev desert, also apparently crossed into Gaza of his own volition. He has been described as mentally disabled.
The agreement is expected to be approved by Israel’s security cabinet on Wednesday.
Secretary of State John Kerry congratulated Netanyahu on the agreement when the two met in Rome on Monday, calling it a “positive step.”
“Israel comes out on top here,” Louis Fishman, an assistant professor at Brooklyn College who focuses on Turkish and Israeli affairs, told Reuters. “From the start it believed that a deal could be worked out where Turkish aid was able to enter the Gaza Strip under Israeli supervision. It seems this is what was struck.”
“Restoring relations with Ankara is a linchpin in Israel’s strategy to unlock its natural gas wealth,” Reuters added, noting that Israeli energy stocks and shares in Turkey’s Zorlu Energy rose in reaction to the agreement.
A senior Turkish official has also called the deal a “diplomatic victory.”
The deal with Turkey is the latest indication of Israel’s ongoing efforts to establish and strengthen relations with other regional and global powers.
[Photo: Amos Ben-Gershom / PMO]