Ankara “needs to adjust its geopolitical posture”

Israel and Turkey announced on Wednesday the full resumption of their diplomatic relations after more than ten years of separation. Energy cooperation, Turkey’s economic difficulties, the dynamics of the normalization of relations between the Jewish state and its neighbors… This warming has many challenges, especially for Ankara, which is now looking for a “less confrontational” geopolitical position. Maintenance.

After more than ten years of “freezing”, Israel and Turkey announced, Wednesday August 17, a complete restoration of their links as well as the return of their ambassadors and general consuls in both countries . Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid explained in a statement that “the decision to raise the level of relations (with Ankara) to full diplomatic relations”, specifying that this continuation “is an important asset for regional stability and a new vital economy.

However, the two countries have been navigating troubled waters for years. In 2010, Israeli forces launched a deadly attack on the Turkish ship “Mavi Marmara” that was trying to deliver aid to the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, under the blockade of Israel and controlled by the Islamists of Hamas. – with representatives elsewhere in Turkey.

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

How can it be explained that the two countries are getting close again? Why now? Decryption by David Rigoulet-Roze, researcher specializing in the Middle East attached to the French Institute for Strategic Analysis (Ifas), fellow researcher at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (Iris) and editor-in-chief of the journal Orients Strategiques .

France 24: Why Israel and Turkey are now restoring diplomatic relations after more than ten years of “freezing” ?

David Rigoulet-Roze: It should be noted that now it is at the initiative of Ankara that the rapprochement is happening, while before it was the Jewish state that was proactive in this matter. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan understands that he needs to adjust his geopolitical posture by making it less confrontational, if less aggressive – if it has ultimately been counterproductive in the recent past. years.

This is the culmination of a process that has been underway for several months. In late November 2021, President Erdogan spoke – for the first time since 2013 – with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Then there was President Isaac Herzog’s visit to Ankara in March, the first visit since 2007. On May 25, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu visited Israel. Then, in June, we saw the strengthening of relations between the intelligence services of Israel and Turkey, thanks to the revelation of terrorist threats originating from Iran and targeting Israeli tourists in Turkey. Yaïr Lapid, the former Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, also thanked Ankara on this topic.

This important development has indeed explanatory reasons on the part of Turkey. President Erdogan has encountered more internal difficulties that have pushed him to adopt a less confrontational stance with his neighbors: the legislative and presidential elections in June 2023 promise to be less easy than before for him, and the economic situation in Turkey is no stranger. this decline in the popularity of the president and his party, the AKP.

The high inflation (79.6% in July, editor’s note) is logically attributed to the government in power – the policy of the AKP has nevertheless been viewed for decades as a model of economic development – which has forced to attract maximum foreign investment to overcome. these economic difficulties.

So the paradoxical resumption of contact in many areas, with the Emirati Mohammed ben Zayed or even with the Saudi Mohammed ben Salmane – although judged by hatred after the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. So this is a 180 degree turn for Ankara because the “political animal” that Recep Tayyip Erdogan can be – without regard for the consistency of his first line. The fact is that economic constraints are forcing it to change below the external geopolitical ambitions.

Is this continuation of relations, for Israel, part of a more global approach to normalizing relations with many neighboring countries? ?

It is undeniable, it is the same dynamic. Except that it is not an Arab country like those concerned with the Abraham Accords and that the dispute on the Palestinian question – and especially on Gaza – has remained with Ankara since the “Mavi Marmara” affair. in 2010. The restoration of relations with Turkey widens the spectrum of normalization for Israel. Especially since there is this question of Iran, and we see the importance that the close relationship with Ankara can be precisely to ensure more Israeli tourists visiting Turkey.

It also makes it possible to distance Turkey from Iran, the two stakeholders, together with Russia, in the Astana format (a set of tripartite meetings between the various actors of the Syrian war, editor’s note) . Ankara has its own agenda, and Israel for its part is fundamentally concerned about Iran’s presence in Syria. On this issue, the Jewish state may have an interest in bringing Turkey closer to distance it from Tehran – especially since Iran has recently blocked Ankara, which wants to intervene militarily against the Kurds in the north of Syria.

What common interests do the two countries share regarding possible energy cooperation ?

The issue of gas in the Mediterranean has become a major controversial issue since the agreement signed by Turkey with Libya on November 27, 2019, on maritime delimitations that gives it access to drilling areas 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 Israel’s fields in the eastern Mediterranean to Turkey in order to bring this gas air in Europe, with more of them than ever before. necessary since the disruption of Russian gas supplies.

In this reconstruction of Israel-Turkey relations, there is also the idea that there are potential opportunities for the development of cooperation.

Finally, what can we say about the ongoing conflict over the Palestinian question? ?

The Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlüt Cavusoglu, cannot deny himself in relation to the ambition shown by Ankara for many years to support the Palestinian cause. He also repeated this publicly on Wednesday, assuring that Turkey “will not abandon the Palestinian cause” and will continue to “defend the rights of the Palestinians, in Jerusalem and in Gaza”.

So the Turkish-Qatari axis will continue to have importance regarding the Palestinian question, and this is a point of contention that will remain with Israel. But this is not enough to jeopardize the continuation of diplomatic relations. In the future, Ankara will probably express its disapproval or even condemnation of Israel’s policy towards Gaza, because it is part of Turkey’s traditional position.

But there is a general dynamic on the part of Ankara that consists of changing its external ambitions downwards, because these geopolitical ambitions need to be financed. Which will not happen now. And while Turkey fell into a severe economic crisis, it first became a political problem for the country for President Erdogan.

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