Amid fraying ties with Russia and Iraq, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that a “normalization process” between his country and Israel would benefit the entire region, The Daily Sabbah, a Turkish newspaper, reported on Monday.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, speaking to journalists during his trip back from the Neutrality Conference in Turkmenistan over the weekend, said a diplomatic thaw between Turkey and Israel was for the good of the entire region, repeating Turkey’s three preconditions for any thaw. In the past week, certain signs from Israel sparked a new debate about the Israeli desire to re-establish links with Turkey.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz voiced governmental discussions over possible natural gas exports to Turkey while the appointment of Yossi Cohen, a close ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and an expert on the region, as the new chief of Mossad was seen as a signal that the country wants to create an avenue to improve ties with regional countries, especially Turkey.
Erdoğan said that Israel must end its legal blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza, as well as pay compensation to the families of individuals who were killed in the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, during which armed activists attacked Israeli troops who intercepted a terrorist-linked Turkish vessel, before relations with Ankara can be restored. However, given Erdoğan’s usual hostility towards Israel, his remarks suggest a softening in his hard-line position.
Erdoğan’s qualified support for renewed ties with Israel comes as Turkey is increasingly isolated internationally.
Ankara’s relations with Moscow have been troubled since Turkey shot down a Russian jet that had flown into its territory last month. In the latest sign of tensions between the two countries, a Russian ship fired warning shots at a Turkish vessel on Sunday when the two threatened to collide. Turkey also began withdrawing its troops from Iraq over the weekend after Baghdad ordered them to leave and prepared to lodge a complaint over their presence to the United Nations Security Council.
Despite Erdoğan’s seemingly softening stance towards Israel, Turkey continues to host senior Hamas operatives in its territory. In 2012, exiled Hamas chief Saleh al-Arouri, who has been implicated in running the group’s terror activities in the West Bank, began operating out of Turkey. In September, a delegation from the terrorist party, headed by political leader Khaled Mashaal, arrived in Ankara to attend a conference of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party. According to The Times of Israel, Mashaal and Erdoğan met at least twice in 2015.
President Barack Obama has in the past pushed for reconciliation between Turkey and Israel, but progress on that front has been stymied by Erdoğan’s Islamist administration, which often panders to vociferously anti-Israel sentiments domestically and abroad in an effort to boost its credibility. According to one Turkish analyst, “as an Islamist government that has produced so much anti-Semitic conspiracy theories,” it is unlikely that Ankara is institutionally capable of normalizing relations with Jerusalem.
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